Thursday, March 31, 2011

Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking and a few unanswered questions.

I say "unanswered questions" but possibly they've been answered somewhere, and I just haven't seen it. So if you have the answers to the following questions -- or even good guesses -- feel free to chime in.

Recently, twitter, blogs, etc. were a-buzz with news of authors Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking. Eisler turned down a traditional publishing deal worth half a million bucks to self-publish. Hocking has parlayed her self-publishing success to grab a sweet traditional publishing deal. But even as these two ships cross in the night, I wonder what , if anything, this information means to me. These authors are pretty high profile. I'm not. But I'm watching this whole kindle thing with interest. I'm not smart enough to know what's going to happen. But I do sense things are changing, and it would be silly not to pay attention and ask a few questions.

Such as ...

What about film rights and foreign rights? As a very non-high-profile author, I've been very pleasantly surprised to have some good luck selling translation rights, and a number of my books are under option, a few even tantalizing close to getting the greenlight. If I'd self-published these book would they have been noticed by Hollywood types? Would they have been picked up for translation. If it sounds like I'm trying to make a point, I'm not. These aren't rhetorical questions. I'm really asking. In a couple of cases, I've actually made much more from subsidiary rights than from the original advances paid by publishers. Not enough for that beach house on Maui, but I was glad for the checks. And if all the pending film projects come to fruition (a HUGE if) it'll officially be the most cash I've ever made in my life. Can we count those chickens yet? Hell no. But the potential dangles out there like a .... uh ... a dangly thing. (I'm a writer!)

Again, I don't think this will matter to authors Like Eisler or self-publishing guru and author J.A. Konrath. But for those of us slinking through the bowels of the midlist ...

Hey, I know. We'll try an experiment. Dear Hollywood producers: Please go here. Bring money.


Stephen Blackmoore said...

One of the things that self publishing doesn't have is a process for all those details.

Traditional publishing... is that what we're calling it today? Or is it legacy? Hell, I can't keep up.

Anyway, traditional publishing is a machine and it has those processes built into it.

At some point self-publishing is going to have similar processes but to be worth anything everyone will have to agree with them. That takes time.

No idea how long it will take to answer those questions but as more prominent authors jump into the fray the closer we get.

I'm glad to see all the experimentation going on with this. It's an exciting time for risk takers. But not what I would call a stable time for anybody.

After all, pioneers get the indians, settlers get the land.

Victor Gischler said...

Wow. Tumbleweeds. Either nobody has the answers or this is a pretty unpolular blog.

I hesitate to speculate.

Victor Gischler said...

SPoke too soon. Thanks for breaking the ice, Stephen.

Mark Haskell Smith said...

Calling publishers "legacy" is stupid. Let's stop that. It's a $23 billion dollar a year industry.

I compare the boon in self publishing to the advent of the VCR. When it first came out people said it would be the end of movie theaters. That didn't happen. But what did happen was it opened new revenue streams for filmmakers and allowed some worthwhile films that might not have gotten made by studios to reach an audience.

The Kindle/iPad boom is gadget driven, not content driven and ultimately, when the novelty wears off, content wins no matter how it's delivered.

Bryon Quertermous said...

I don't know if either of us wants to admit to this, but these are exactly the same thoughts I had about the whole endeavor. I've never wanted to be just a novelist. I always saw writing cool books as a way to get noticed, like you've done, for movie stuff and comic stuff and porn stuff or whatever.

I also agree with Mark that the term legacy publishing is stupid.

I don't ever want to agree with Stephen. On anything.

Victor Gischler said...

I think maybe "the process" as Stephen puts it is one of the things I'm wondering about. Barry Eisler doesn't need to grab anyone's attention, right? His name is well known. But where do the translation and film offers come from if these folks don't see you in Publisher's Weekly and Booklist. Or if your agent isn't working for you. I'm not sure how my agent would feel if I said "I'm going to self-publish this and you won't get your 15% ... but please continue to push film rights."

Again ... just questions.

Kevin Wignall said...

Victor, these are good questions. I seem to remember someone (maybe Hocking herself) saying that a foreign agency had contacted her on the back of Kindle success, so I suppose it's possible.

But I don't see foreign scouts and film agents trawling through the Kindle lists, because self-published e-books are so... how to put this politely... unfiltered. Amazon will have to deal with this sooner or later.

I'm not even particularly convinced that the big Kindle successes are all they seem. I wonder how much of the revenue is generated by the self-published authors who use the Kindle Boards as some kind of mutual support group. Easy to support your new "friends" by buying their books when they're only 99 cents a pop. But as more and more publish, this can't be sustainable. I do wonder if Kindle Boards are inadvertently creating a kind of Ponzi Scheme. (and no, I'm not suggesting anything untoward is going on, and I'm not comparing Joe Konrath with Bernie Madoff, I'm just suggesting that the market might be skewed).

Rather like Chairman Mao when asked what he thought of the French Revolution, "it's too soon to tell."

Barry said...

Mark, mainframe computers are still a big business, too, and probably bigger than publishing. So size alone doesn't seem to be the key factor in determining the appropriateness of the term "legacy." What is the key factor? According to Wikipedia:

"A legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program that continues to be used, typically because it still functions for the users' needs, even though newer technology or more efficient methods of performing a task are now available."

I'd say that's a pretty apt description of the publishing industry as it exists today.

"The Kindle/iPad boom is gadget driven, not content driven and ultimately, when the novelty wears off, content wins no matter how it's delivered."

Gadget driven like the DVD boom and mp3 booms? With the novelty similarly soon to wear off? You could be right (though I don't think you are), but don't you at least have to explain the difference? Why is digital distribution of books a "gadget driven boom," while the migration from VHS to DVD, and from cassette and eight-track to CDs to mp3s -- to name just two -- not?

Victor, re your original question, I don't know how much overseas publishers will care if a manuscript is self-published in the US. My guess is, they won't, especially if the self-published book is selling well in the US. For movies, I wouldn't even worry about it. A movie is always a long shot one way or the other. But here, too, FWIW, my guess is it won't matter that much. Amanda just did a movie deal, though you could argue she's exceptional because her sales are so big.

The only thing I can see that would inhibit subsidiary rights sales is a lingering sense of, "Oh, that's self-published, hasn't been vetted, must be crap" attitude. But I don't think that attitude has a lot of life left in it.

Victor Gischler said...

Thanks for dropping by Barry. I suppose the lingering "Oh, that's self-published" stigma is one thing that could hinder sub. sales ... but I'm also just thinking about the mechanics of it. Example: a film producer sees a review in Publisher's Weekly, calls an author's agent. The ball is rolling. If no trade review and no agent, then ... maybe no deal? The thought of how I would present myself to all the film producers and foreign editors of the world is too daunting to deal with until I get another cup of coffee into my system. If I had your name recognition (congrats on that) I might not have these questions.

And they are just questions. The purpose of my post is NOT "self publishing is good or bad" but rather how some of these peripheral things might shake out. Will we see the emergence of agents who specialize in handling sub. rights for self-pubbed authors?

I dunno.


Jim said...

Hi Victor,

You've probably seen this, but two people posting answers to some of your questions are Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. As a new writer about to (I hope) break into the biz, I found their sites invaluable.

A. J. Abbiati

Victor Gischler said...


Awesome. I'll check it out.


Joe Konrath said...

Can only speak for myself, but my agent is selling foreign, audio, and film rights to my self pubbed books.

In regard to sub rights, I think popularity is more of a factor than if these books were legacy published or not.

Success is all about getting lucky. But as time marches on, I expect to see more Hollywood-types combing the Kindle bestseller lists, looking for product to adapt. That's how they found Hocking. And me.

Victor Gischler said...

Thanks for stpping by, Joe. I figure you know more about this than a lot of other people.

When I heard Barry Eisler turned down 500,000 bucks for a publishing deal, one of my first thoughts was, "Wow, I bet his agent is pissed." Maybe I'm 100% wrong on this. But I do wonder how agents fit (or don't) into this self-pub scenario.

Jim said...

Hey again, Victor,

Joe proposes a possible scenario for the future of agents/publishers in the self-pub world. He calls it estributing. (See his conversation with Barry on his blog). Interesting projection, and in fact I used the premise to model my own imprint mission statement last week.

A. J. Abbiati

P.S. Absolutely love your work.

Victor Gischler said...


Thanks again and thanks for loving my work. You da man. I try to keep up with Joe's blog, but that guy really provides A LOT of content and I missed "estributing."

Jim said...

Don't I know it. I'm trying to get a grip on the whole subject with no prior publishing experience. Feels like I'm soaking up the ocean with a sponge...


Jarrett said...

I've been on the Kindle Boards -- more trolling than contributing -- and know that I've read posts from authors there who've had people contact them about foreign distribution. After that is when they go and contact an agent. Now,

Surprisingly, they find it a bit easier to land one when they already have someone lined up showing interest.

Not exactly certain how the foreign publishers found them, but they were the writers who were having success. I would guess that Joe is right when it comes to trolling the Kindle best-sellers lists.

Now, film rights I'm not sure about, but it looks like Joe covered that.

Anonymous said...

Wignall stole my Ponzi analogy from my Twitter stream :) Seriously though, I think this is a legitimate concern. There is a sort of tulip mania around ebooks that I don't think can be sustained, as there are not an endless number of people willing to pay 99 cents for an ebook. Feels like the publishing version of the Internet bubble. Re sub rights, I would have these same concerns, Victor, as Europe is a major market for me as
Jason Starr

Mark Haskell Smith said...

Barry, I don't mean "gadget driven boom" as a pejorative. It's a boom in sales and revenue streams etc that's driven by the existence of the gadgets. You can't have an mp3 boom without mp3 players. That's all I meant.

While I prefer my work comes out on ground up tree pulp, I think the gadget driven boom is ultimately a good thing for writers and readers. But then I'm old-fashioned. I don't have an iPod or a Kindle.

"Legacy publishers" is still a stupid phrase. No matter what Wikipedia says.

Dominique Ducote said...


First, wouldn't the degree to success in navigating such discussions and negotiations as a self publisher hinge, partially, on how much time you have to devote to such projects?

Second, pertaining to foreign publshers and film production studios acquiring the rights for such projects, I imagine all these entities already have a mechanism in place for discovering talent to translate or produce into films which, due to the newness of self publishing on kindle, have not adjusted to the possability of discovering talent outside of their regular channels.

Bah, I don't know much. I'd just imagine that if you were a self publisher you would, most likely, have to pitch and sell your project to people, rather than have these entities bid for your material. Whereas having a big publishing deal, right now, would mean that your material would have the big publisher's seal of approval that your content is grade A worth publishing. Film prduction and foreign translation entities would know your material already went through a vetting process.

I have no idea if what I'mw riting makes any sense, just supposing off the top of my head, myself.

Victor Gischler said...

Hey Dom,

I would LOVE to have publishers bidding for my stuff. I've been lucky to find good publishers interested in my books ... but it's not like they get into fist fights to determine who will take me to prom.


DeadpoolNakago said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dominique Ducote said...

Wouldn't we all, though. You could always go the route of finding your own film producer, drum up some investment in a movie production in one of your books, and then hit the indy film circuit. It was good enough for Sam Raimi!