Friday, February 14, 2014

A Case of the Shatz - Fisking Mike Shatzkin

Mike Shatzkin, sounding more and more like an apologist and less like the forward-thinker he's been in years past, took a stab at poking holes in Hugh Howey's new www.authorearnings.com endeavor.

In the comments, Hugh gracefully said he agreed with 86% of what Mike said.

I, however, found little to agree with. I'm also not much in the grace department.

I'll take Mike point-by-point, which begins after a few paragraphs of introduction.

Mike:  Hugh’s latest business inspiration — a call to arms suggesting to independent authors that they should just eschew traditional publishing or demand it pay them like indie publishing — is potentially much more toxic to consume. (The agenda here is unclear. Is Hugh most interested in getting more authors self-publishing or in organizing authors to demand better terms from publishers? It’s hard to tell, but there is an agenda, it would seem.)

Joe: Hugh's agenda is transparent, both on his blog, and on www.authorearnings.com, and in the email exchanges and conversations I've had with him.

He wants authors to be informed so they can make correct decisions.That's also my agenda.

Your agenda, Mike, is also transparent. As is the agenda of the Big 5, most literary agents, and the Authors Guild. You all earn your living from the legacy industry, and if there is a mass exodus of authors to self-publishing, you all are in deep doo-doo.

I'll reiterate: Hugh is losing time and money on www.authorearnings.com. He won't get his time or money back. I could have written a dozen novels instead of blogging these past years. Neither of us charge authors any consulting fees. We do what we do as a public service.

Mike: The long story short is that Howey analyzed a bunch of Amazon rank data (apparently a single day’s worth, 1/28-29/2014, which has so many obvious problems associated with it that all by itself it raises questions about what of value can be gleaned) and from that extrapolated some breathtaking (and breathless) conclusions that go way beyond what the data could possibly tell anybody.

The analysis purports to compare how authors do self-publishing versus how they’d do with a publisher and comes to the conclusions that they make more per copy on average self-publishing and maybe even sell more and make better books to boot. (For much more and better analysis of the data biases, I’d check Dana Beth Weinberg’s post on this subject. Her objections and my objections have very little overlap.)

Joe: I've been doing similar data studies for years, though not nearly on the scale and scope of Hugh's study. And I never took it to the extreme level Hugh did, crawling Amazon, finding data on 7000 titles (soon to be many, many more.)

And Hugh's conclusions do not go way beyond what the data could possibly tell anybody. Comparable anecdotal data has been telling me the same exact thing for years. It's also been telling thousands of other authors the same thing. There just hasn't been a way for all of us to prove to the world what our monthly bank statements have been showing us: self-publishing is a lot bigger and more lucrative than anyone assumed it was.

Mike:  My problem with the whole exercise is that there is a long list of relevant facts not included in the data and therefore ignored in the subsequent analysis:

1. Author revenue from print sales. Authors not only make a lot of money on print sales, but print in stores (as opposed to printed copies available through Amazon) is also a marketing element. This all still matters. In a comment on Howey’s site, one author estimates her Amazon sales as anywhere from 10% to 30% of her total sales. Obviously, for some other authors it is a lot more than that, maybe north of 70% of their sales. Which kind of author are you? And if you’re the kind selling mostly on Amazon, is that an inherent characteristic of your appeal or a deficiency in your non-Amazon distribution?

Joe: Hugh just posted about print sales, using Bookscan to get data from the Top 100 bestsellers in paper.

His conclusion: "It turns out that traditionally published authors give up more pie for their crust than indie authors give up for their crumbs."

In other words, those extra paper sales that the legacy industry can offer authors aren't worth taking the lower ebook royalties.

And that’s for the Top 100 print bestsellers. I’d guess midlist author paper sales on bookstore shelves are much smaller, percentage wise, than their ebook sales (legacy or self-pub).

In other words, a Top 100 Bookscan bestseller in paper is someone making scads of money with paper, whereas the overwhelming majority of legacy authors don't hit the Bookscan Top 100. But even those huge bestselling authors would do better forsaking print and self-publishing their ebooks.

If that's the case, the midlist authors are getting royally screwed, because they're giving up 75% in net ebook royalties to publishers in exchange for very little paper sales.

I'm guessing this point will be proven as Hugh digs deeper into Bookscan figures.

Mike: 2. Getting an advance before publication versus having costs before publication. Although Howey cites one author who turned down an advance to self-publish, those stories appear to be few and far between. I was really struck by one such author announcing nearly two years ago that he was doing this, but, in the end, that author took a publishing deal — not a self-publishing deal — from Amazon. And the size of the advance is also a consideration that Howey’s analysis doesn’t touch on. It can’t, because that data — however relevant — isn’t available. (But then, can you draw valid conclusions without it?)

Joe: I've personally spoken with five authors who have turned down deals. And I doubt they're the only five. Not every author has the desire to make their business dealings known. And not every author goes looking for legacy deals.

Mike: 3. Unearned advances and their impact on author earnings. Unearned advances are a substantial part of author compensation. I know of one Big Five house that calculates that they pay more than 40% of their revenue to authors and another which says that number is in the high 30s. That’s not all digital, some of that is print with manufacturing and warehousing and shipping costs associated with the revenue. How can you compare how authors are compensated if you don’t calculate the benefits to authors, meaning the resulting higher percentage of the revenue they’ve taken, of unearned advances? That relevant data is also not available.

Joe: Mike, could it be the advances are unearned because legacy royalties suck?

If you were a genre author offered a $100k advance earning 12.5% royalties off of the digital list price (25% of net, and publishers sell to Amazon at roughly 50% off their digital list price), and your ebook is priced at $4.99, you earn $0.63 per ebook sold. You need to sell 159,000 ebooks to earn out your advance. And when you do, you're stuck with 63 cents per sale, FOREVER.

The same ebook, self-published, earns the author $3.49 per copy sold. If they sell 28,653 copies, they made the $100,000. Every copy they sell after that, they make 5.6x more money than they do on a legacy ebook.

Which seems like a better deal for authors?

Also, unless the author is a mega bestseller commanding astronomical advances, guess what happens if the author doesn't earn out? They don't get any new deals from their publisher, even though the publisher STILL holds onto their backlist rights.

Publishers can afford advances because they make triple what authors do in royalties. It's a high interest loan (ridiculously high interest), and even if it isn't paid pack by earning out, the publisher can still do very well.

Mike: 4. Getting paid for doing the work of publishing which goes beyond authoring. Frankly, the biggest omission to me is the eliding of the costs — in time and money — of doing the work the house does for an author. Howey mentions that editors and cover designers can be hired. That’s true, and good and competent ones too. But is a good writer necessarily a wise chooser of an editor or of a cover design?

Joe: Check www.authorearnings.com for your answer to how good indie authors are at choosing covers and editors. Or just look at the Amazon Top 100 lists yourself and count the indie authors there.

And these are SUNK costs. A house that does work for an author continues to charge that author forever.

Sorry, but it took me longer to write the book than it took my legacy publisher to edit it and create cover art. Yet they make 37.5% royalties off list, and I only get 12.5%?

And they set the Digital List Price, which is often too high. You knew this back in 2011, Mike, when you blogged about me.

Mike: How much does it cost if you don’t get the right one the first time? (We know publishers aren’t perfect at these jobs either, but they’re bound to be better most of the time than somebody who hasn’t ever done it before.)

Joe: I've changed my covers multiple times. Yes, it is an extra cost. It's also a cost I would have gladly paid some of my legacy publishers if they'd changed the bad covers they did for me. But, alas, they knew better, and change simply doesn't happen in the legacy world. Imagine if they did. I'd love to hear that phone call:

"Mr. Konrath, this is Legacy John over at Big 5 publishing. Remember that cover we did for you? The one you hated? The one we didn't show to any sort of focus group? Well, we've finally decided to listen to you, and we're changing your cover and relaunching your book!"

Right.

Except, I've done that many times on my own. And so have many self-publishers.

Mike: And is that how you want to spend your time? Authoring is a job but doing the work of self-publishing is also a job. And it entails real risk. Advising a writer to self-publish without considering these things is like telling somebody who’s a good cook that they might as well just open a restaurant.

Joe: Actually, it's more like telling someone who plays a guitar that they should go to open mic night and see what the audience thinks. Publishing a book doesn't require a bank loan like opening a restaurant does. All it requires is a little bit of time and money. If it were rocket science, 50% of the top selling books on Amazon wouldn't be indie books.

Mike: 5. Current indie successes where the author name or even the book itself was “made” by traditional publishers. Another factor any author self-publishing has to consider is the likelihood of success, which is much greater if the books are backlist (have some fame in the marketplace) or even if just the author has been previously published. Successes like Howey’s, from a total standing start with no prior writing track record, are quite different from others who have reclaimed their backlists and used them as a platform to build a self-publishing career.

Joe: Mike, reread what you just said.

"others who have reclaimed their backlists and used them as a platform to build a self-publishing career. "

First of all, these backlist books obviously weren't selling for the legacy publisher, or else the legacy publisher never would have returned the rights.

Second of all, if the authors who got their backlists returned were able to build a career, WHY THE HELL WOULD ANYONE SUBMIT TO LEGACY PUBLISHERS EVER AGAIN?!?

Pardon my yelling, but what you just said shows your absolute inability to understand what's happening here.

To rephrase what you just said:

Legacy publishers couldn't sell the same books that went on to make self-published authors successful.

Mike: Now, that data could be obtained. Wouldn’t you like to know how many of the “indie authors” at various income levels were cashing in on what was originally publisher-sponsored IP and how many started from scratch? (It’s more challenging, of course, to assemble the data by the author rather than by the book.) But I sure think it would be necessary to understand before drawing conclusions about who should self-publish.

Joe: Are you arguing the old "you were published before and that's why you're successful now" meme? If so, I dispelled this in 2012. It's demonstrably false. I've consistently outsold my old publishers on my own, and if I had debuted in 2009 and not 2002, I would have self-pubbed those books and skipped the legacy industry entirely.

Or are you saying that having multiple ebooks improves your chances at self-pubbing success? Does something this obvious even need to be said? You know having multiple books in print also improves your chances at legacy publishing success, right? The more shelf space you have, the better.

But with virtual shelf space, it's an even playing field. Brown has one page for The DaVinci Code on Amazon, and I have one page for Whiskey Sour on Amazon. In the old days, he had 300 copies on the front table, 40% discount, and I had two copies, spine-out in section and full price.

Mike: 6. Rights deals. Howey himself has benefited from having a stellar agent who has made foreign and movie rights deals for him across the globe. (She even made a print-only deal for Wool with S&S.) Yes, you can (if you’re lucky) do this like Howey did: finding an agent to represent his self-published material. But that’s another thing to find and manage that comes with the deal (and the advance check you get to cash) if you do a deal with a traditional publisher (although, admittedly, you would probably have had to find the agent in the first place, and self-publishing could be a way to do that.) Nonetheless, you get more rights-selling firepower on your side if you’re with a publisher.

Joe: Wha?

I've sold world rights to publishers that didn't do anything with them. They didn't return those rights to me, either.

Then, when I got my rights back, my agent sold my self-pub books to more than twenty countries.

You certainly get more subsidiary rights-selling firepower with a good agent. But with a publisher? Maybe, if you're a huge bestseller. But I wager I know more authors whose publishers didn't sell foreign rights than those who did. That used to be common bar conversation at conferences.

"You sold to Korea? I wish my publisher did that..."

Mike: 7. How well Amazon data “maps” to what happens elsewhere. Is it really projectable? A massive flaw in the analysis is the biased nature of the data. Amazon’s sales profile is not the same as the market as a whole. (One day of data isn’t a projectable sample either.) One agent pointed out to me that they are weak at selling mass-market fiction, for example, and that their ebook sales tend to the fresh and new, so they don’t get a bump when a mass-market paperback comes out. But we can be pretty sure that Amazon sells ebooks more successfully than the market as a whole, because Kindle has the biggest installed base and Amazon has the most book customers.

Joe: More data is coming, Mike. Hugh is just getting started.

As an author who makes 90% of his income on Amazon (and I'm far from the only one, both self-pubbed and legacy), I'm not very concerned if the Amazon data Hugh came up maps to what happens elsewhere. I don't care if Amazon is weak selling mass-market fiction, because I don't sell mass-market fiction. I don't need to. I only need to sell ebooks.

And Hugh's data shows how much more an author earns self-pubbing on Amazon than a legacy author earns on Amazon.

And today, Hugh's data includes Bookscan, which shows that even if authors give up a paper deal with a legacy publisher, they still earn more via self-pubbing.

Authors are reading this, and soaking it in. So many were anxious to get this data it crashed Hugh's website when he launched.

As this data spreads, do you really think publishers are going to continue to be able to acquire the best books? What can they offer?

Mike: This bias of sample is compounded by the focus on genre fiction. No matter how big a percentage of those niches is served by Amazon, it is important to remember that it is where they are relatively strongest in relation to the big publishers. If we were comparing literary fiction or biographies — both of which have lots of worthy authors too — the chances are the cost of an Amazon-only distribution strategy, or an ebook-only distribution strategy, would be far higher. And the chances of success would be far lower.

Joe: Then publishers should have nothing to worry about. They'll still get lit fic and biography submissions. Problem solved.

That is, until ebook sales climb in those categories as well.

Hmm, how much lit fic and biographies to publishers actually sell? How big are those pie slices?

I wonder, when the data come in, if those authors also do better self-pubbing. I guess we'll have to wait and see what Hugh digs up.

Mike: 8. The apparent reality: flow of authors is self- to traditionally-published, not the other way around. But I think part of the motivation for this piece was frustration in the indie author community at the fact that many of the best ones get signed up by traditional houses, who view indie publishing as a farm system, and very few established authors will actually turn down an advance to go indie. They’ll reclaim their backlist and self-publish it, or do a short ebook on a subject that is timely and can’t wait for print or be made longer. But there has been very little evidence that I am aware of that publishers are having wholesale difficulties getting authors to come aboard with them on a traditional deal.

Joe: I notice newbie self-pubbed authors signing legacy deals. I also notice them declining legacy deals. But how many former legacy authors go back? And how happy are those newbie authors who sign legacy deals? Where are their ringing endorsements?

Where's that self-pubbed book that became a huge legacy bestseller? Has there been one yet? (50 Shades was small press originally, BTW.)

How about all the authors who never turn down legacy deals because they never even bother to submit to legacy publishers?

And how about all those authors you mentioned earlier (and apparently forgot about) who built their self-pub career using previously legacy-pubbed books? Aren't they the apparent reality? I can name dozens of those. That seems to be the real flow--legacy pubbed authors who get their rights back and start making money for the first time.

Is the Big 5's long term plan to make money off of self-pubbed authors as long as authors remain naive? Is that sustainable? Especially now that Hugh's data is being read by everyone with Internet access?

Everyone should self-publish, by your own admission. Why should anyone send out query letters to agents and publishers and waste months of time? Why not self-publish and get discovered that way, while earning money? That's the "flow" you're referring to, right?

Mike: 9. Publishers can raise royalty rates (or lower prices) when it becomes compelling to do so. Which brings us to the final point that I think is relevant and ignored. As Howey and others have pointed out, the early days of ebook publishing appear to have been good for publisher margins. They can afford to give authors more. (In fact, I encouraged them to do that before their accounts come after them for the extra margin in a post nearly three years old.) But they’re not going to give it out of some spirit of generosity or because Hugh Howey (or Mike Shatzkin) thinks it would be a good idea. They’ll give it when it is a competitive necessity to do so.

Joe: I remember that post of yours, and agreed with it wholeheartedly.

But legacy publishers couldn't afford me, or Hugh, or thousands of other authors. Ebooks are where the money is, and even if a publisher offered me 95% ebook royalties, that still only amounts to 47.5% of list.

I can make 70% of list on my own.

I'll repeat that.

Even if a publisher offered me 95% ebook royalties, that still only amounts to 47.5% of list. 

I can make 70% of list on my own.

The other things that publishers offer (editing, covers) are one-time costs. And print? There's a whole generation of authors who don't care if they're ever in a Barnes & Noble. We can sell our Createspace and Lightning Source paper books on Amazon.

Mike: So my advice about Hugh Howey’s advice is simple. Totally ignore it if you’re not a genre fiction author; there’s precious little evidence or thinking in it that applies to you.

Joe: Yet. Hugh hasn't presented the data yet. And even if lit fic or biography or non-fic or children's books still earn more in paper, they won't once B&N is gone. I know children who are learning to read on Kindles and iPads. They won't have the nostalgia for paper any more that I have nostalgia for 8 track tapes. It's not as if action, horror, and romantic comedy movies went to DVD and BluRay while documentaries and musicals still sell in VHS.

In 2010 I predicted print would become a subsidiary right. And for a whole lot of authors, it has.

Paper won't ever go away. But it will be a niche market, and not the most lucrative way for writers to make money.

Mike: And if you are a genre author, be very clear about the extra work and extra risk you take on in order to get some extra margin. Both will be required for sure whether the extra margin materializes or not.

Joe: The "extra margin" is 5.6x the royalties your publisher is offering you. So a better way of thinking about it is, "Sign with a publisher and they'll give you 12.5% of list price and do your editing and cover, or self-publish and make 70% of list price and do your own editing and cover."

Mike, you have a consulting business. What if you had to do a bit more work than you currently do, but you'd make 5.6x as much money?

That's the current dilemma authors have. And I don't see it as a dilemma. I see it as a no-brainer.

That said, every author has different goals, and legacy publishing does offer some advantages, and every writer needs to find out as much as they can before they make any decision.

I suggest they start with www.authorearnings.com.

Mike: Self-publishing is definitely an incredible boon to commercial writers and they should all understand how it works. Increasingly, literary agencies see it as their job to provide that knowledge. It is almost certainly a good idea to self-publish for many writers who have reclaimed a backlist that has consumer equity.

Joe: Again, if it had "consumer equity", why didn't legacy publishers exploit that?

Mike: It is a perfectly sensible way to launch a career, either before going after the commercial establishment or as a part of the strategy to engage with them. (Editors in the big houses are well aware of the self-publishing successes; it’s a new farm system.)

Joe: It's a farm system for naive authors. BTW, Steve Zacharius used this same analogy. But even though I've sold over 1 million self-pubbed ebooks, he still hasn't called me with a print-only deal.

Why aren't I being farmed? Could it have been something I said?

Mike: If an author has access to markets, it can be a better way to get short or very timely material to them faster. But to say it has its advantages and applications is a far cry from saying that it is a preferable path for a large number of authors who could get publishing deals.

Joe: Calling all authors with publishing deals who later went and self-pubbed: which is the preferable path?

Which is better, 12.5% royalties or 70% royalties?

Which is better, having control over cover art or not having any say?

Which is better, choosing the edits you want to make or having your editor force them on you?

Which is better, being paid monthly or twice a year (with reserves against returns held)?

Which is better, owning your rights or selling them for the term of copyright (your life plus 70 years)?

Which is better, releasing as much of your writing as you want to or non-compete clauses preventing that?

Which is better, publishing when you finish the book or waiting 18 months for a legacy publisher to release it?

Which is better, being on the shelves of B&N (while they're still around) and contending with a high return rate, or selling your paper books via Amazon and Createspace (and making higher royalties)?

Which is better, working hard and keeping control or working hard and having no control?

Which is better, listening to industry experts who make money by telling you to sign with publishers, or listening to industry experts who do it for altruistic reasons?

Mike: I can’t “prove” this so I won’t try, but it bears further emphasis that it still looks like the number of authors who start as self-published and then get “discovered” by the establishment and switch over is still larger than the number of authors who say “keep your stinking advance” and turn down a deal to do the publishing themselves. None of the parties involved is stupid — not the traditionally-published authors, nor the self-published authors, nor the hybrids — not even the publishers. And they might not be evil, either. As for self-interested debaters, they exist on all sides.

Joe: Unless publishers drastically change how they do business, I don't see how authors will keep signing with them. Some still may. Every author has different goals, different paths to follow.

But whatever authors decide to do, it is important that they make informed decisions. That they understand the pros and cons. That they study the industry and weigh all options and go into this believing they're doing the right thing, not because they have no choice.

I am one of tens of thousands who had no choice. I wanted to write books that reached readers, and the legacy system was the only way to do it.

The fact that a choice now exists is amazing. Thousands of authors are making money for the first time every. Some are paying bills. Some are making a living. Some are getting rich. Some are finding success and signing with legacy publishers. Some are finding success after getting dropped by their legacy publishers.

But one thing is 100% certain. The balance of power has shifted. Writers are now in control.

How we use that control depends on how informed we are, and what we each want.

Mike: PS: I HATE long comments. If you disagree with me and want to use my space to make your case, please be concise. (And frankly, although I also prefer you to be concise if you agree with me, I’m made less cranky when I get long-winded support.)

Joe: No worries, Mike. I'd just assume keep the debate over here, where more people will see it.

And people here are free to leave long comments, as many as they like.

I was recently Skyping my friend and frequent collaborator, Ann Voss Peterson, and she wrote back:

"There's a total inability to see anything from the authors' points of view. That is pervasive among these legacy defenders. None of them consider what is financially good for the author AT ALL."

That's because we're cattle. We're the farm team. We're the limitless resource, useless without a firm hand to connect us with readers.

At least, that's how it used to be. That firm hand has always charged a premium for the services it provided. They could get away with charging a lot, because there was no other choice.

But now those services are optional, not necessary.

And Hugh Howey, and his nameless Data Guy (who will soon be writing a post for this blog) are showing all indie writers how unnecessary legacy publishers are.

Yes, Mike, this is potentially toxic. Especially since Hugh and Data Guy aren't planning on stopping. They're going to release more and more data until even you won't be able to dismiss it.

But you did your best to warn the legacy industry. For years you've been warning them, Mike. And you're to be commended for that.

Which is why I'm saddened you've stopped warning and advising them, and started this apologetics approach, defending an indefensible industry, coddling them rather than hitting them with the frightening reality; a reality they should be very worried about.

You could have used Hugh's data as a call to arms. As an industry-wide wake-up.

Instead, you've used some really poor arguments to try to discount Hugh's work.

It doesn't matter, though. More data is coming. It doesn't matter if you discount it, or ignore it, or tell the legacy industry not to worry about it. Because writers are listening to it.

And without writers, the legacy industry is finished.

Addendum

Mike continued to say silly things in his comments, and I wanted to respond to some of them.

Mike: Doing an (incomplete) analysis of how (some of) the top 0.5% of titles do tells me (and everybody else) *nothing *about how many tried and failed and how much it cost them to try and fail.

Joe: So how many authors have tried to be published by the Big 5, or attain an agent, and have failed?

I have no doubt many authors aren't doing well self-publishing. But would those books have ever been published by the legacy industry?

Compare that to books rejected by the legacy industry (like mine) or that have gone out of print (like many others) and have gone on to make a great deal of money. ORIGIN was rejected in 1999 by over 20 publishers. It just hit the Top 100 Bestsellers on Amazon last week, and made me about $3k in two days.

And compare it to the books that were accepted by publishers, and failed. Which are the majority, last I checked. Two out of five make money, two break even, two lose money, last I spoke to my old editor. (Konrath fail update: 2x3=6 not 5. It's 1 makes money, 2 break even, 2 lose money.)

A self-publishing author who failed at least did so having a fighting chance. The same cannot be said by those rejected, orphaned, and ruined by the industry you're defending.

As for self-pubbed authors failing--haven't you heard that ebooks are forever? There is no shelf life. Today's failure may be a hit next year, or next decade. Ebooks can't be stripped, remaindered, or returned.

Mike: it is possible that a genre author might be able to glean some value from your analysis. But it is worthless for any other kind and we are a LONG way from the time when MOST authors -- even genre authors -- will be better off self-publishing than being published.

Joe: Show me an author who has done both--self published and legacy published--who agrees with you. Any author at all. You can read my thousands of blog comments for hundreds who disagree.

Mike: If bestsellers were arrayed by CUSTOMER SPEND, we'd see a very different picture.

Joe: To quote Jake Blues: Jesus H. god-dancing christ! Mike! MIKE! AUTHOR'S DON'T CARE ABOUT CUSTOMER SPEND! THEY CARE ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY THEY CAN EARN!

Hint: This is why Hugh's site is called "Author Earnings". Because his data reflects... wait for it... Author Earnings.

You simply don't get it. Forest for trees? Blinders on? What can't you understand here?

Mike: If you've already got a publisher, you'll still benefit from doing the digital marketing with your readers and fans. That's another thing missing from the analysis. Whatever an author can do on behalf of a self-published book, they can do on behalf of one that has a publisher too!

Joe: They sure can!

And next time you get paid to speak, Mike, you can give me 3/4 of the money you made! You don't mind doing all the work and letting someone else make the lion's share of the profits, right?

(Am I wrong, or did Mike just cross over into self-parody here?)

Mike: I know that all the big publishers are developing digital marketing capabilities and lists of names and ways to interact at scale.

Joe: Yes, the big publishers have a history of respecting readers: High ebook prices, collusion, price fixing, windowing, $30 hardcovers, year waits for paperbacks... it's almost as if they treat readers as well as they treat their authors.

But if, after a hundred years of treating bookstores as their customers, they've finally figured out that readers are their customers, good for them. Looking forward to seeing them innovate... well... anything.

Mike: I'm 66 years old and I have been in the publishing business since I was 11. Based on all those years of observation, I refuse to believe that the size of the advance isn't the most important thing to 9 out of 10 of the authors who do it for a living, if not 99 out of 100.

Joe: And you damn kids get off my lawn!

I really can't argue with someone who refuses to believe something. But I urge you to not confuse "advance" with "earnings". I got a $33k advance for my first book. I've made that self-publishing in a good week. An advance is not the most important thing for me, or for many other authors I can name. Perhaps it was like that, back in your day, but the times they are a' changing.

As I mentioned, an advance is a high interest loan, which is very difficult to pay back.

Do you have a pension plan, Mike? A 401k? Let's say it's worth $50k a year in dividends, and will continue until you're 100 years old. How about I give you $200k for it, right now? Does that seem fair to you? It's a large sum of money upfront. Why worry about what you'll make ten years from now?

If I made that offer to 99 out of a 100 people, think they'd take it?

Also, I've called the US Department of Labor to arrest your parents for putting you to work at age 11. Sorry I had to do that, but children need to be protected.

Mike: In the agented world, the average advance is considerably higher than Jackie's. Her publishers are setting a very low bar for her to do better on her own. No agent can afford to negotiate contracts for 15% of $2500 per book and none of them do.

Joe: None of them, huh? So no agents ever represented authors who sold to Harlequin? Or Silhouette? Or Leisure? Or Pinnacle? Or Five Star? Or Medallion? Or Kensington? And no doubt many others? None of them do? Really?

You seem to know a lot about the average advance. If it isn't the $5000 mentioned in your comment thread, what is it? You neglected to mention it, though you're obviously sure of yourself.

Mike: I mean is that there are people doing it for a living and there are people who are doing it for other reasons, ranging from pin money to personal satisfaction to whatever.

Joe: Such a modest lot, we writers are. All we need is pin money and a pat on the head, or just the knowledge of a job well done. We're more like hobbyists, really.We don't write to be read, and very few of us aspire to make a career out of this. Especially the ones who read our blogs, and who are wiping the floor with you in your recent comments section.

Don't take it personally, Mike. I know your blog is just a hobby for you, something you do for personal satisfaction or whatever. If you put up a Paypal donation button, I'd be happy to give you a few bucks for pin money.

Mike: Authors who have built a following already and are suffering declining sales are, indeed, good candidates to switch to self-publishing.

Joe: Know who's a better candidate? Authors who have built a following and have rising sales. That's why I got my rights back. Because as my legacy ebook sales began to grow, I kept a running tally of how much money I was losing.

Happily, that money now all goes to me.

Mike: The use of a single-day's data as a base for projecting a year's sales is a particularly egregious error of logic and the laws of probability.

Joe: Which is why it will be great to see Hugh and Data Guy crawl for more numbers. But I can guess the response:

"The use of a week's data as a base for projecting a year's sales is a particularly egregious error of logic and the laws of probability."

"The use of a month's data as a base for projecting a year's sales is a particularly egregious error of logic and the laws of probability."

"The use of a year's data as a base for projecting a next year's sales is a particularly egregious error of logic and the laws of probability."

Ad nauseum.

But I kid. Maybe a single day isn't enough.

So I just checked the Amazon Kindle Top 100 five minutes ago.

Hmm. There are 35 self-pubbed titles.

Well, I'll be darned. That's the 35% Hugh mentioned in his report from a few days ago.

I suppose I could waste more of my time checking the Top 100 Romance, or Sci-Fi, or Police Procedural, or Horror, but I have a strong suspicion what I'd find. I came upon this suspicion because I've been counting indie authors in the Top 100 for years. Have you, Mike? If so, you'll find that sometimes, on certain bestseller lists, more than half the list is self-pubbed. It fluctuates, of course, but I'll make a crazy prediction and say that the more data Hugh reveals, the more it will show how indies are making a lot of money without the legacy industry.

Or, as William Ockham just commented in response on your blog:

"No, you are just wrong about that. It would be wrong for projecting the earnings a particular book based on its position on that day, but likely to be excellent for projecting the shape of the market."

Zing. Thank you, William.

So I'll repeat my question:

Why do you think any indie author, when exposed to these numbers, would sign with a legacy publisher?

One last gem from Mike, then I really have to get some work done.

Mike: I have a limited appetite for meaningless data interpreted with an ax to grind.

Joe: And I have an unlimited appetite for fisking legacy pundits who say stupid shit. So please, keep it up.

As always, you're welcome to respond here, and I'll post your unedited comments, however long.