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J.A. Konrath Responds to Our Interview with Jamie Raab

Former Grand Central author Joe Konrath has responded to our So What Do You Do? interview with Grand Central publisher Jamie Raab.

Below, we have reprinted the response from the self-publishing champion in its entirety. Konrath also wrote a response to the leaked Hachette memo with author Barry Eisler.

Konrath began: “I have nothing but respect for Jamie Raab, and for the most part I enjoyed working with Grand Central. They’re a group of dedicated, talented professionals. But they’re dedicated, talented professionals in a broken, outdated, and increasingly irrelevant business model.”

Curation is no longer important. Readers are very capable of finding ebooks that interest them (the same way they can find YouTube videos, websites, and TV shows that interest them.) They no longer need to be told by a publisher, “This is worthy.” They can make that call on their own.

Publishers vet books, and they do a good job keeping out the low quality. But they also miss some good quality. Grand Central published my horror novel AFRAID (under the pen name Jack Kilborn) in 2009, and it was simultaneously released in the UK and Australia. The combined print/ebook sales in all three countries has netted me over $60k in three years.

They passed on my books TRAPPED and ENDURANCE, so I didn’t benefit from the “nurturing talent” that Raab says is one of Grand Central’s beliefs. I released those titles on my own.

Those ebooks have netted me $240k in two years.

Grand Central did some marketing for AFRAID, and I’m grateful for that. But I toured for twenty-three consecutive days and signed at 206 bookstores in 12 states to promote AFRAID. I also did a blog tour, providing exclusive content to one hundred different blogs in a month. Grand Central no doubt worked hard to promote AFRAID. But I put in more hours than all those who worked on it, combined.

With TRAPPED and ENDURANCE I did no touring, no advertising, and a very tiny bit of internet marketing. So Ms. Raab’s comment “If, as a writer, you want to spend the time going to the different distribution channels and marketing and doing publicity yourself, that’s less time you have to write” really amuses me. I spent a lot more time promoting my Grand Central title than any of my self-pubbed titles, and even with Grand Central’s marketing machine behind me, I was able to make a lot more money in less time on my own.

I have no doubt that Grand Central employees work hard, have lots of meetings, and are selective about what they publish. That doesn’t mean they’re worth the 52.5% they currently make from each $6.99 ebook copy of AFRAID they sell. I only make 17.5% per copy sold. Why should a publisher earn $3.67 when I wrote the book and only make $1.22? Curation and editing weren’t factors–I was already a professional novelist with six other published books to my name, and the editing on AFRAID was minor. While Grand Central did some marketing, that has long since been paid back. I received a $20k advance for AFRAID (hardly enough to live on), and quickly earned that out and made an additional $40k, and I’d point to my efforts as the reason.

I understand Grand Central has overhead. But as an author, why should I care? I can hire out for editing, proofreading, formatting, and cover design, and those are fixed, sunk costs. Once those are paid, I can earn 70% on a self-pubbed ebook. Plus, I can set my own price. Lower prices sell more copies. The value of a book isn’t in its cover price. It’s how much money a book earns. Lower priced ebooks earn more. I’ve been proving this for the last three years.

Ms. Raab said, “Some authors are climbing the Amazon list but, when a publisher approaches them, more times than not, they choose to go with a publisher.”

Which authors? Inexperienced, newbie authors who have never been traditionally published. They still have the stereotypical Author Dream: book tours, interviews, seeing their book on a bookstore shelf or in their local library, being validated by a major publisher. Many of them, even if they are bestsellers, can benefit from working with a professional editor.

But I haven’t heard of a single experienced author who has re-signed with a legacy publisher after finding self-pub success. I know dozens of authors who have had a lot of books published by New York, and they won’t ever take another Big 6 contract since they’ve gotten a taste of the freedom, control, and money self-publishing offers. If I was offered a million bucks to sign with a New York publisher, I’d laugh at that. I made $150k on my own in the last two months, and ebooks haven’t even become widely adopted in the US yet. What happens when there are as many ereaders as mp3 players? What happens when ebooks become a global market? Why would I give away 52.5% of my royalties to a publisher?

As for getting paper books onto shelves, legacy publishers do excel at that. Grand Central got AFRAID into all the major bookstores. It was even in Wal-Mart.

But the ebook of AFRAID has sold more copies than the paper versions of AFRAID (hardcover, trade, and mass market combined). And AFRAID was released in 2009. If it were released today, I wouldn’t doubt if the ebook outsold the paper version at 10 to 1. I’m okay with forsaking paper sales when I can make four times the ebook royalty on my own. But I don’t forsake paper sales. TRAPPED and ENDURANCE are available in paper through Amazon’s Createspace program.

Grand Central, and publishers in general, were once essential. They controlled the paper distribution network. But in digital they aren’t needed. I can reach just as many ereaders on my own as Grand Central. In fact, I can reach more, because I can reach foreign markets.

So what value do publishers give authors to justify them taking 52.5%? Curation? Not needed. Editing? I can hire out. Covers? I love my cover for AFRAID. I believe my covers for TRAPPED and ENDURANCE are just as strong. Marketing? What marketing? A quarter page in the Ingram catalog, a PW review, and some tweets?

Originally, the purpose of a publisher was to connect writers with readers. Lately, publishers are more concerned with selling as many pieces of paper as possible. Ebooks are priced high to protect paper sales. The agency model was forced on Amazon is to protect paper sales. Windowing is to protect paper sales. If publishers truly wanted to connect writers and readers, there is no better way to do it than digitally. No printing costs. No shipping costs. Instant delivery straight into the readers’ hands.

But publishers don’t want to sell ebooks. If they did, they’d lower the price of AFRAID from $6.99 to under $3.99, as I did with TRAPPED and ENDURANCE. The ebooks of TRAPPED and ENDURANCE have each outsold AFRAID, and they did so in less time. But Grand Central keeps AFRAID at $6.99 because that is the price of the paperback. Focusing on paper sales is like selling drinks on the Titanic.

If Publishers want to survive this brave, new digital world, they need to offer authors higher royalties and more value, and lower their ebook prices. More and more seasoned authors are doing what I’m doing. More and more newbie authors aren’t even bothering submitting their books to publishers.

Writers are essential. Readers are essential. Publishers are not.

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