Saturday, June 25, 2011

High Royalty Rate Vs. Big Advance

"Get that little son of a bitch Zandri on the phone right now!!! You hear me people?!!!!"

My friends and colleagues, the cats over at StoneGate Ink, put up a post on the their FB page asking this simple question: As an author, do you prefer a high royalty rate or would you prefer a big advance?

If this were ten or even three years ago, I would have said, "Advance" without evening thinking about it. In fact, my reaction would have been more automatic then breathing. But all that has changed in the past year since having signed on with the Inkers for a 50% royalty per E-Book sold rate.

I come from that generation that for ages believed you went to writing school, then got an agent, then nailed a major contract with a legacy publisher. All of which has happened to me. In fact when I signed a contract with Herr Bertlesman worth close to a quarter million bucks back in 1999, I thought my life was set. The publisher would take the time to develop me, I would eventually sell out, and be offered a new contract every other year or so, all of which would boast more and more zeros.

But what I didn't know at the time, was that a first novel usually sells only moderately well. There are exceptions of course, but I ain't talkin' about Harry Potter here or Kitchen Confidential. I'm talking about the other 99.9% of us lucky enough to have landed a major contract or two. So when THE INNOCENT (As Catch Can), sold only so-so, and then GODCHILD its follow-up the did the same, the big boys in the Bertlesman Tower decided to pull the plug on Vincent Zandri, thriller writer. Lucky for me I was able to keep my advance without having earned it back. However, all marketing of the books ceased, what were left on the shelves were remaindered, and the bastards even hung onto my rights for eight more years, pretty much putting me out of business. In the words of my then editor: "They are preventing you from selling books!"

I had to head back to full-time freelance journalism.

Then came my new agent Janet Benrey (now retired) who beat my novel rights out of Random House. She wanted to strike up a deal with a new upstart publisher who was making its mark on the publishing world by re-publishing back-listed novels by some heavy hitters in the industry, and publishing some new novels as well. There wouldn't be an advance but the royalty rate would be staggeringly high and what was even better, the novels would come out within a couple of months instead of the usually one to two year wait.

Still, despite 5-plus tortuous years without a new contract, when Janet urged me to sign with this publisher, I honestly thought she might have been smoking a little too much of the Chinaman's pipe. But what the hell, I signed anyway.

Fast forward to a year later, and I've sold close to a couple hundred thousand E-Books, and well over 100,000 Kindle copies of THE INNOCENT alone. GODCHILD is a close second. THE REMAINS a close third. The past three months were so staggeringly good I got calls from The Wall Street Journal and USA Today ran a small piece about "Innocent's" success.

What's this mean for me?

It means the six figures I'm earning this year is real money. It means I am operating in the black. It means I am now involved in responsible publishing. It also means that there's a good chance that if Mr. B had believed in me and what I could potentially sell, instead of showing me the door after only two books, I would not only have earned the advance back, I would have made him a nice profit.

But instead the money I've earned is all mine. Sorry Random House, you had your chance. Serves you right for holding my rights hostage for 8 years!

Hmmmm, wonder if I should go for the 4 bedroom villa in Tuscany or the three bedroom with the in-ground pool? Decisions, decisions, decisions....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Amazon Tags: The Good News & The Good News

Some of us took it on the chin last week. Us authors published by indie outfits like StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink and some of you self-pub'd authors, that is. Amazon decided to remove the tags that can lead readers to our books whenever they search for a certain type of read, be it hard-boiled or romantic suspense or a book that's a lot like James Patterson's books for that matter. Combine that with some sales reporting glitches and a summer special concocted by Amazon in which they selected 600 novels (most of which are published by the major houses in New York), discounted them to $2.99 or less to make them as attractive as indie books, and it all came together to create a major slowdown in our sales.

I did some blogging on the tag topic last week and received more comments than ever before. Tagging, although not essential for selling novels is nonetheless, a valuable tool in helping potential readers and hopefully would-be fans find your work. One of the comments by a fellow indie pub'd author was quite revealing and came as a bit of a relief. He pointed out the fact that the tags are not gone at all. They are just no longer posted beneath a particular book's product description. Which means Amazon has decided that only books that you purchase can be tagged. What this will do for them is cut down on the amount of "gaming" abuse that can occur with tags, and perhaps put a halt to what they and the the Big Six Legacy Pubs consider the worst tag of all: "Boycott $9.99" Kindles."

So, if you want to find your tags, here's what you do:
-Go to your Customer Account (not your Author Central Account)
-Scroll down to "Improve Your Recommendations"
-BAM! Your tags will appear for you in the form of books you have purchased.

So that's it, for now.
Word on the street from some of my other blog readers is that Amazon Support has promised that the tags are to return to the main Kindle E-Book pages and that what's happened is in fact, a glitch in the system. But considering the timing of the "600 Kindle Titles Special," I don't know if I'm buying it.

The good news is that all games aside, the indie titles are slowly gaining back the ground they lost last week, and even re-entering the "Movers and Shakers" list. Which means that no matter what kind of battles the head honchos of the Big Six and stores like Amazon decide to wage against us indies, the overall war will be won by us.


Because we can offer great work for an affordable price and we can do it forever and ever, Amen.

To buy Zandri's Top 100 Bestselling Kindle E-Books like THE INNOCENT and GODCHILD (both only $.99 for a limited time) head on over to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM or click on the title.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tag Me, Tag You Blues! Or, It's the End of the Indie World as We Know It!?

"There they are, the four riders of the Big Six Apocalypse: NOOK, Kindle, Sony E-Reader, and Ipad."

Oh man, you'd think those crazy asses who predicted the world would end on May 21 actually only got the date wrong by a little over a week. This past weekend when Amazon decided to pull their tags on E-Books (you know, those descriptive words you add to a title so that browsers can find them more easily when shopping), a whole bunch of my colleagues and cohorts immediately saw the four horsemen riders of the Apocalypse shoot down from the heavens and along with it, the end to what seemed like a very profitable run in Kindle E-Book heaven.

Add to that some unexplained lackluster sales across the board, and you have legions of indie authors contemplating their final meal: Will it be meatloaf or fried chicken?

I'm of the opinion that yes, tags are important. But I'm not of the opinion that tags alone create monumental sales. What creates great sales are the tried and true 4 rules of the indie games, or any variety of publishing game for that matter:

1. Great Cover
2. Great Product Description
3. Great Price
4. Great Book

After that you add in social media marketing, a virtual tour, a trailer, and just plain writing more great books, and you have yourself a career that should earn you steady sales that will increase with time, according to how fast your tribe of loyal readers grows.

Tags are cool because I can tag another bestselling hard-boiled mystery author and she can tag mine, and when John Q. Public goes to my Amazon page for THE INNOCENT or THE REMAINS for instance, they also see her name and then perhaps we both get a sale. But there are other ways to tag on other social media sites like Crime Space and Edgey Christian Fiction and even still on Amazon, so long as there is a paper version of the novel available.

Some people believe that the loss of tags is really the result of a conspiracy between the Big 6 publishers and the chiefs at Amazon to do away with the popular indie titles. I don't believe this is the case, because one, it would probably constitute something illegal like a payoff or payola, and two, why would Amazon shoot their hugely successful indie publishing program in both its feet just to give in to a dying white elephant?

Others believe the tags will re-appear one day soon since it must be a glitch that destroyed them in the first place (such as a Lady CaCa, excuse me, GaGa, download). This is possible I guess. Some have even been reporting that sales numbers aren't showing up and that rankings are dipping on a disproportionate scale with actual sales. Now there's a fantasy I really want to believe since I too have dipped somewhat in the ranks this week.

But you know what? Sorry Charlie, that's freakin' life.
And you know what else? Don't put all your eggs in one fragile basket. Amazon is cool, but it's only one store. Chime in on some NOOK fan sites, or sell more books off your website or your publishers website. Give some E-Books away for God's sake. The point is not to be caught with your pants down in this business. A lot of people have been asking me why I'm still writing journalism, and this tag business is precisely why.

Ok, so answers...we all want answers.
Well, I don't have any, but here's what I have to offer:
My gut reaction is that the tags will never return. And that the reason Amazon has limited product descriptions for indie novels from 7 to 2 is because the indie books are proving more popular than the company would ever have believed them to be. That said, I believe they are trying to level the playing field a little to give the higher priced novels produced by the NYC legacy publishers more of a fighting chance. The biggy novels make up a huge portion of Amazon's sales, and like Obama's stimulus packages, they're trying to light a fire under some of the same old, same old mega authors . That's what I believe anyway.

But here's what else I believe:
That tags or no tags, the most popular indie authors (and my publishing house has at least three of these authors...) will realize a 20% to 30% decline in sales this month, but that decline will be short-lived as other ways to tag and to market will inevitably put these players back on top. If nothing else, these top players will once more reach the top by simply following the aforementioned golden rules. They will also write new material, unaffected by one store's attempt at leveling a playing field that truly isn't meant to stay level.

Yo, grab up the new Concrete Pearl, the first in a new series starring the sexy and brassy Spike Harrison!!!!!