May 19, 2010

Joe Konrath’s Coup

Huffington Post and just about every other blog connected with publishing today has been carrying the story of Joe Konrath and the monumental deal he and his agent made with to publish all of the books to come after #6 of his Jack Daniels series.  Seems his publisher had decided good sales weren’t enough, or  something like that, and so they nixed publishing any more of them, which is, of course, their perogative.

But dammit all.  If a successful series has lasted for six books and there are more, wouldn’t you think they’d want more? Well, apparently not, so Joe decided not to get mad, but to get even. 

So Amazon is going to publish the rest of his series, Kindle ebooks first, then in print a few months later.  Evidently the contract is a very lucrative one for everybody concerned. 

What happened was that Joe recently discovered all by himself that the Kindle is a gold mine for experienced authors who are willing to sell their ebooks cheap.  A few other prolific (and experienced) authors have followed his example and are now reaping considerable benefits.

Note that I said experienced authors.

Problem is, most publishers who control the ebook rights don’t want to sell them cheap, citing high publishing expenses.  Joe says, and he has proved it over the past couple of months, that lower prices mean more sales.  Lots more sales.  WAY LOTS more sales. And he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is.

A big side issue here is being discussed in a lot of author blogs, though:  What about all the new authors who will head straight for Kindle publishing without bothering with the middle man–the agent/publisher route, or even the online ebooks route.

There are a lot of pros and cons here.  I’d like to add my two cents worth, having been involved in both traditional and e-pub worlds.

So I read the article today on HuffPo by Jason Pinter, a bestselling thriller writer, positing that now too many brand new authors will head for Kindle and ruin their talent by publishing before they’re really ready to publish without the benefit of a good editor. 

I know in my heart of hearts he’s going to make a lot of newbies mad by saying that, because all newbies (Jason and I both know this, having been newbies ourselves once) believe their first book is The One The Universe Has Been Waiting For, and Is Perfect Just As It Is, and they’re going to believe Jason is trying to keep their book from being published because he doesn’t want the competition.

I understand that attitude.  The reason I understand it is that I know how much you do have to believe in yourself to actually go the whole route and become a published author.  Anyone who believes in themselves that much is going to believe he or she actually IS competition for bestselling authors. I believed it myself before I got published and I still believe it today.  The day I stop believing it is the day I’ll quit writing for good.

But Jason has a point, and for those of you who read this who are still struggling for that first sale, I want to emphasize the reality of what he’s saying.  He’s simply saying, as some have repeated today all over the Internet, that Joe Konrath had the benefit of editors through the publication of his first six books, and that gives him a huge edge to probably make a big go of this experiment. 

Anyone who reads my workshop pages here will know that I always emphasize believing in yourself because it’s crucial.  BUT you have to also face facts.  Believing in yourself takes you down the path to publication, and unless you self-publish, it also leads you through a lot of lessons learned from a lot of editors.  Even if you self publish and have editorial help, you’re still learning.

Editors are your best teachers.  They are.  But only if they’re good, experienced editors.  A bad editor, like a bad agent, is worse than no editor at all, because they will tell you things that aren’t true, you will believe them, and mistakes will be ingrained in your writing, which makes it twice as hard since you have to unlearn the bad stuff to learn the good stuff.

There’s a lot to editing.  There’s line editing and there’s content editing.  They’re two different things.  What most of us learn in most critique groups, if we’re lucky enough to have one, is line editing, and that’s partly because there isn’t time to do both line and content editing in crit meetings. Even if there was enough time, they’re two entirely different things.

Line editing is spelling, grammar, multiple instances of the same word in the same paragraph, spotting the wrong word usage (there/their) (your/you’re).  It’s watching for quote marks and paragraph spacing and keeping your chapters numbered right. It’s all that and way, way more. You can generally learn a lot about line editing in crit groups IF you have someone experienced enough to teach you. 

But then there’s content editing, and this can only be done right by someone with a lot of knowledge and experience.  Content editing is knowing how (and why) you should move a paragraph or scene or even a whole chapter to a different location.  It’s being aware that somebody has blue eyes in Chapter One and green eyes in Chapter Fifteen.  It’s knowing that what you said in Chapter Six isn’t jibing with what you said in Chapter Seventeen.  It’s remembering all the details that you have to remember because you can count on the fact that some reader will, and will let you know about it.  It’s knowing how to end a chapter with an aha! moment and how to find that moment.  It’s way more than all that.  It has a lot, combined with pure luck, to do with whether your book will be a runaway success or an also ran, because it’s always, always the icing on the cake, that extra lovin’ care that only someone with a lot of experience (and a good memory) can give you.

Now here’s the part that will probably get me a lot of hate mail but I have to say it anyhow because it’s true.  You don’t always get good content editing except (hopefully) with major publishers, and nowadays, it mostly happens with big, big books that the publisher is going to get behind because the advance was large and they want to recoup that advance money.  They’re willing to go the extra mile and spend a LOT of money on it and so they pay more attention to the small stuff that gets left to chance in too many other cases.

All this is why Jason Pinter said what he said.  It’s not that he’s trying to stifle the competition.  It’s because newbies, if you’re reading this, he knows how hard it is to get a whole book right, and most of the time, with rare exceptions, with a first book it’s almost never right at the git-go–not because you’re not a good writer, but because there are things you’d never dream you have to remember to do, as well as learn to do in the first place.

The upshot of all this is, if you’re a first time writer and you want to put your book on Kindle, please do yourself a huge favor and have it edited by an expert.  Not your kid who majored in English in college.  Not your best friend who works as a secretary.  They may know grammar but they won’t know how to put a book together.  If you’re not going to go the long route and work your way up through the ranks and learn as you go from your editors, then hire one.  Believe it or not, a lot of writers have their book edited by someone else anyhow.  If you’re getting a lot of rejections, an editor might be all you need to point out all the pesky little things that you need to watch.

Whatever you do, most successful authors today will tell you to give yourself a chance to be the best you can be.  If you don’t have some good editorial help, no matter who you publish with, you’re not giving yourself that chance. 

That’s all Jason meant.  It’s all I mean.  It’s all meant more with love of other authors than anything else.  It’s just because we know how hard it is under any circumstances, but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth learning how to do it right.

Comments?  Questions?  Lay it on me.

Hugs, see y’all next week.
(That’s me, Beth Anderson.  But you knew that, right?)

And oh, I almost forgot.  DanaliDawg and Sarge and BooBoo all say “Hey!”

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6 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. I agree absolutely. As someone rather new to the business of writing, I know too well that there is a whole other part of writing a book that goes beyond telling a good story. I’m learning a lot as I go through this process of publishing and it sure has been eye-opening for me. There’s a whole lot out there that I never imagined I would have to know and I was an English major in college. Thanks for the insight!


  2. Hi B.A. and Troop,
    Excellent post and thanks for writing it. You’re spot on. I’ve been fortunate to have a mentor who had more faith in me than I did. My critique group knows their stuff and won’t let me get away with anything. Without these people, I’d still be writing crap. Sure hope newbies don’t jump into the wrong ocean. It’ll be author suicide.


  3. Me too, Mel, except my major was Accounting and Finance. But still. 😉

    Folks, Melissa Bradley, above, is a fantastic natural writer, but if you don’t want to listen to me, listen to her because she’s learned, and I’ve watched her learn. It’s been a lot of fun for me, actually, and her diligence AND willingness to listen to her editor no matter how much it may hurt is going to take her far.


  4. Sloane, thank you. And yes, as your original mentor, I have always had faith in you. I know talent when I see it.

    Folks, Sloane Taylor, also above, is one of those author-type people 😉 with a burning desire to write a book who started out with absolutely no knowledge of how to do it BUT a huge willingness to learn, and she’s still learning, as we all are, day by day. Sloane is an incredibly prolific plotter, which I envy because that’s one thing I really have to work on. She’s another one coming up through the ranks who has a good writing future, and knows the value of learning what you’re doing before you jump into the publishing fire.


  5. You dead on, I was horrified when I read my children’s story aloud for the first time in front of an audience *gasp*. No one had to tell me it was back to the drawing board! But there are so many people telling authors of all kinds to skirt around traditional publication. They site it’s too hard, and they’re too many gatekeepers. Duh! Nobody makes any money publishing bad books. What most newbies don’t realize is that reputation matters more than sales in the beginning.


  6. Ah, you’ve got a lot of wisdom, Christina, learned over time, I see. It’s true, there are a lot of people out there telling new authors exactly what you said, and most of them are saying those things because they want to make money from desperate new authors trying to break in. It IS hard, and there ARE a lot of gatekeepers, but it is possible to overcome all that because I did. It took me eight years from the time I started trying before my first book was published, and I actually am not sorry it did, because MY first editors were at Harlequin Superromance, who pubbed my very first book. You couldn’t pay for the education I got from those women. It was hard, maddening even, but it was thorough, and once they got through with me, I knew how to write a good romance. My next editor, just as tough, taught me how to write a mainstream novel. It’s a long battle, but ya gotta do it, there just isn’t a shortcut that’s going to do you any good in the long run. Ya gotta pay your dues one way or the other.


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