There’s a heart-warming story in the New York Times this morning that tells the tale of a brand new independent author with a flair for marketing who not only turns her first erotic novel into a best seller, but goes on to start her own imprint and build similar success for equally talented Indie authors who don’t have that special marketing gene. Great! you say? Well, maybe not so great. Read on.
So here are the basics: Meredith Wild, the pen-named Self Published Author Making an Imprint in the title of the story, is a talented 33 year old entrepreneur who built a successful Web design business before turning her hand to writing. So unlike most authors, she’s a skilled business woman and a risk taker. Before releasing her first book, she raised and borrowed over $100,000, and invested it in a national marketing campaign which included buying ads to run before showings of Fifty Shades of Gray in theaters. The book takes off, and eventually she sells the series to a traditional publisher for $6.25 million. She then goes back to publishing, where shortly she’s making $500,000 a month in royalties on her new books.
Entrepreneur that she is, she builds a proper business structure around her efforts, even hiring a CEO, and decides to look for authors with lots of good reviews but lousy sales. Then she buys their books and gives them the full Wild treatment, and yes, they take off! For example, she bought all of Audrey Carlan’s existing books, and signed her to a contract to write 27 more. Audrey had only been selling about 1,000 copies a month (at $0.99 a copy) of her Calendar Girl series before Meredith took the titles over. But in December of last year, the first book in her series began moving up the charts, and in January, readers bought an astonishing 800,000 copies of her books. Carlan, who is now committed to write a new erotic novel every two months "said it was a relief to be able to focus on writing sex scenes. ‘I’m not interested in designing websites and formatting my books,” she said. ‘I just want to write wicked hot books.’”
So what could possibly be wrong with this picture?
Well, first a fun fact. As we all know, the ogreish traditional publishers exploit authors by paying only a miserly 15 – 25% royalty on eBook sales. Authors have claimed that this is exploitive, since publishers today pay low advances, when they pay any at all, the cost of production of eBooks is effectively nothing, and Amazon pays authors royalties of 70% when books are priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Authors also object to traditional publisher contract terms that sometimes obligate them to offer future titles to the same publisher before shopping them elsewhere.
Now here’s the deal that Ms. Wild, herself an Indie author, struck with someone chosen “not because she was doing well but because she wasn’t doing very well:” a "few thousand dollars per book, plus a percentage of royalties." And what was that percentage you ask?
The article doesn’t say how many books a month Ms. Carlan’s books were selling before her first book took off, or how many of the 800,000 sales in January were eBooks and how many were print, but if we assume that all were eBooks, that would mean that Waterhouse, Ms. Wild’s new publishing venture, would have made over $1.6 million at the 70% Amazon royalty rate while they were priced at $2.99.
If we assume that the Calendar Girl series sold 100,000 copies a month before that, a 50% royalty would result in Ms. Carlan receiving about $100,000, or $50,000 rate. Halve that sale rate, and the numbers would be $50,000 and $25,000. In fact, Ms. Carlan earned $20,000. So while possible, it seems unlikely that this new Indie imprint is paying any more to the author’s it discovers than traditional publishers. And it has also tied Ms. Carlan to a 27 book contract as well. That means that Ms. Carlan won’t be able to renegotiate until she’s devised 27 more plots, who knows how many new characters, and over 2 million more words. That smacks of authorial slavery to me.
So there you have it. The story doesn’t sound as heart warming as it did at first. Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
With the Iowa caucuses only two days away, here’s a little bonus: the candidate debate scene from my political satire/thriller, The Lafayette Campaign. Although I tried, I’m not sure that I succeeded in coming up with fictional candidates that were more ridiculous than the ones that later declared their intention to become president.
FRANK WAS SITTING inside his camper, a bowl of diet popcorn at one elbow and a small barbell at the other. The popcorn elbow was getting most of the exercise. On the opposite side of the camper hung a large flat screen TV, and on that set the latest, pre-primary season Republican debate was about to begin.
Like many Americans, he was curious to see how Randall Wellhead, the latest entrant to the Republican field, would fare in his first performance under the scrutiny of the public and the national media. Just like the earlier candidates, he had rocketed to the top of the polls almost immediately after announcing his candidacy.
The candidates were now walking on camera, taking their places at the semicircle of podiums arrayed across the stage. The crowd gave a rousing welcome, and Frank turned up the sound to better hear the pre-debate commentary.
Well, Chet, look at that – Randall Wellhead’s heading straight for one of the two positions at center stage!
That’s right, David. Courtesy of his sudden status as a top contender. You know, Texas is certainly being unusually generous with her native sons this year. Wellhead’s not just another politico from the Lone Star State. He’s the son and grandson of genuine Texas wildcatters. He’s also senior minister of his own evangelical mega church, and a popular all-talk AM radio show host, to boot.
But he’s not all tradition, Chet. Don’t forget that a few years ago he confessed from the pulpit that he ‘used to be’ gay − said that one day he had, let’s see, I’ve got his exact words in my notes here – yes – ‘one day, I decided to give up the homosexual lifestyle. And with the help of the Lord, I put my secret sins behind me.’ Ever since he’s been preaching about how every homosexual can share in the same joys that heterosexuality has brought into his life.
Right, David. He wasn’t in the political spotlight back then, though. Now that he’s in the race, reporters are scrambling to learn whatever they can about his past. According to some of his high school girlfriends he put up a pretty good act for a closet gay.
Ha ha! Well, for those viewers that can’t read those small signs on the podiums, that’s Hollis Davenport standing to Wellhead’s right − governor of a swing state and making his second run for the nomination. And what a resume he’s got − Yale graduate, one prominent position after another in the private sector and now governor. Seems like everyone should agree he’s one of the most capable contenders on the stage.
You’d think so, David, but the voters don’t seem to agree – Davenport’s always number two in the polls. He’s always at least five points behind whoever’s in the lead.
Right, Chet, but they never stay there long. Up until a week ago, the guy on the other side of Wellhead was the latest Great Right Hope − Julian Johnson, Governor of Texas. His turn at the top lasted maybe five days. I expect he’ll be a lot more careful during this week’s debate.
Well, if he isn’t, at least he’ll have company – Roxy’s up there, too.
For our listeners benefit, Chet, let me note that you’re referring to Senator Roxanne Rollins! How about a little respect for the Senate!
Well, David, she is also the former State of Wisconsin Dairy Queen.
And she wouldn’t be Senator Rollins if she wasn’t filling out the rest of her ex-husband’s term.
Okay, I’ll give you that. His tenure in office − and their marriage – didn’t survive the headlines when he was caught in the act with the current Dairy Queen.
He must really love that Wisconsin cheese! Huh? Am I right?
The commentators were still having a good laugh over that one when Frank muted the sound. He’d been paying attention to the primaries lately and didn’t need their snarky commentary to catch up. He guessed that next to Davenport must be Roland Overby, an unabashed Libertarian who was constant in his convictions and unimpeachable in his public and private life. Frank had to hand it to the guy – he’d dedicated his career to serving as a passionately independent voice in the partisan gutter of the House of Representatives.
He didn’t have much to show for it, though – not a single piece of adopted legislation with his name on it. You almost felt sorry for him now − an elderly, scarecrow of a man with a shock of unruly white hair and a bleating voice. But he was still going strong, and still willing to speak truths that others were afraid to acknowledge. Too bad he also said things that no one with a robust relationship with reality said, either.
Anyway, he had a loyal following that didn’t seem to mind it when he said the government should close the regulatory agencies, disband Congress, shut down the courts, and let Wall Street run the country. His ranking in the polls was rising, too.
Frank recognized Julian Johnson on Wellhead’s left. And consigned to the boondocks at the ends of the stage Frank could just see Roxanne Rollins, Landa Goshen and Vance Cabot. Goshen was a City Councilwoman from Enid, Oklahoma. In an unfortunate display of bad timing, she had announced her candidacy just before the foreign policy debate. The problem was that a major part of her platform was based on having no foreign policy. She advocated killing three birds with one stone – or, more accurately, with approximately 432 billion large, quarried stones – which she would use to build a thirty foot wall surrounding the entire nation. All at the same time, she’d stop illegal immigrants and foreign invaders while calling the bluff of the climate fanatics on the left. All that nonsense about warming causing the sea level to rise! Once she had her seawall up, they could just shut up and stay that way. She continued to have a fanatical, but diminished following.
That left only Senator Vance Cabot, an elder statesman if ever there was one. He’d held and served honorably in almost every high level post a public servant on the national stage could hold – member of the House of Representatives, a senator and a cabinet member, not to mention serving on several important blue ribbon investigative commissions. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was as highly regarded abroad as he was at home – a rare occurrence in recent years. A graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, he had argued several cases before the Supreme Court. Naturally, no one on the far right paid any attention to him.
The camera suddenly zoomed in on the logo that adorned each podium, and Frank saw that the debate was sponsored by conservative cable TV channel POX News, “The Network that tells you what you want to hear.” He recalled that PN’s parent company also owned KPOX, the radio station that hosted Randall Wellhead’s talk show.
Sitting at a desk in the front of the stage was Russ Blovia, the debate moderator and host of one of POX News’ most popular political commentary programs. The theme he had chosen for the debate was, “Is there Anything – Anything at all – that the Democrats Can do Right?” The crowd gave him a warm welcome as he walked across the stage, waving, to take his seat.
When the applause died down, Blovia welcomed the audience and introduced the candidates. Then he turned to the candidates to announce the rules of engagement for the evening.
“During our exchange of views tonight, I will enforce, and you will obey, the usual rules for a televised debate….” He squinted at the teleprompter and stopped to pick up a paper copy of his script. Then he laughed.
“Yes, that’s what it actually says here! Well, why don’t I go off script for a minute and get real.
“Tonight, I will ask each of you to stay strictly within the time limits, which are three minutes for answers to my questions, and one minute for rebuttals to the statements of other candidates, assuming you haven’t already butted in. When you ignore the time limits, I will interrupt you politely, and you will ignore my existence.”
“Interrupting the other candidates is forbidden, and when you do so anyway, I will jump in, and you will tell me, in so many words, to stuff it. Do I have that right?”
The candidates smiled and nodded in agreement.
“Good,” Blovia smiled back. “So let’s get started.”
“Mr. Wellhead, you’ve made some pretty negative remarks about Democrats in the past. For example, just last Monday in Milwaukee you said that saying the typical Democrat is as dumb as a box of rocks would be insulting to the average box of rocks. Do you have any concerns that comments like that may make it difficult for you to win the election?”
Wellhead flashed his famously white teeth in a dazzling smile. “Not unless we let rocks vote!”
“Very good, Sir. Very good indeed! Just seeing if you were on your toes tonight, and clearly you are. Now what do you think the worst thing is that this Democrat President has done since he’s been in office?”
“Wow – where do I begin? Well, let’s see, how about I say when he sent our troops into Iraq?”
The crowd fell silent. After a moment, the moderator cleared his throat. “Ah! I get it. Now you’re seeing if I’m on my toes! Good one! Of course, we all know that the President’s predecessor, a Republican, took that action.”
Wellhead looked at him blankly for a moment, and then panned the audience with his million dollar smile again as they laughed and clapped.
“Let’s move on to another candidate. Mr. Davenport, when did you quit considering a Democrat as a running mate?”
Davenport scowled, and then forced a smile. “Ah, good one again, Russ. You almost caught me there.”
“I’m not joking, Hollis. When did you?”
“I’ve never considered a Democrat as a running mate, Russ, and you know it.”
Blovia gave a knowing smile and a big Vaudeville wink to the audience. “Of course not, of course not! Now Mr. Overby, a question for you.” Overby smiled and blinked rapidly, his suit coat hunched up on his thin shoulders.
“What do you think of Democrat plans to tax the top 1% of Americans to bring down the deficit?”
“Oh my goodness, Russ, what a terrible idea! We should repeal all taxes! Why, if we just let businesses run things, everything would be fine! Just fine! The best way to let a free market economy be successful is just to leave it alone!”
Blovia nodded. “How about you, Governor Johnson? What do you say?”
“Well, I absolutely agree that the last thing we should do is tax the rich. Why, they’re the engines of our economy! If we were to raise taxes, they might just decide to move out of this country entirely. Then what would we do? Who would buy the luxury cars Detroit doesn’t make any more? And what about all those McMansions? If all those estates got dumped on the market at the same time, why, we’d have another real estate crash! No, I think the only smart thing to do is to cut taxes for the rich. Let’s have a flat tax for everybody. It’s incredible the Democrats can’t see that.”
“Does anyone disagree?” Blovia asked the candidates at large.
Most nodded “no;” only Cabot shook his head in the affirmative.
“Well, it’s unanimous, then. We’ll return to other policies the Democrats have
all wrong after this commercial break.” The screen flashed over to an ad for Bentley Motor Cars.
Frank shook his head in disbelief and got up to grab a beer and his laptop. How could it be that so many conservative candidates would think the best way to get elected was to defend the wealthiest 1% of the nation when unemployment and underemployment were over 15%, and the nation was running a half-trillion dollar annual deficit? And weren’t Republican voters able to do elementary math problems? A flat tax would drop taxes for the rich while raising them for everybody else. It defied all logic.
He scanned his email, and perked up. He had just gotten his first email from Josette! He opened it.
>Hi Frank! All is well here. Do you watch the debate?
Not exactly what he had hoped for.
Yes, but I’m wondering why – they’re all crazy.
She replied immediately.
>I think so, too. But surely all the voters are not crazy?
You have to wonder, given the polls.
> I do wonder. The only two candidates that make sense are Davenport and Cabot. But no one pays attention to Cabot. And it seems that anyone new is always right away more popular than Davenport.
Frank looked at his laptop. He wasn’t sure where to go with this conversation, knowing what he did. Time to change the subject.
How was the Festival?
>It was so wonderful! You would have loved it. I have taken many pictures. Perhaps I can show them to you some time?
I’d like that. Where will you go now?
>I will ride back east with my friends. When they return to France, I will stay here to study.
As usual, she had taken him by surprise; he didn’t recall her ever suggesting before that she might stay in the U.S. over the winter.
>Yes. Last spring I applied for a fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, and they have told me that I am accepted! For the fall and spring, I will be studying your election and what happens afterwards. I must find somewhere to live now in Washington.
He leaned back and stared at his laptop. Had he ever felt anything other than off-balance when conversing with Josette? Then he had another thought and phrased his next question carefully.
Just you? All of your friends will be returning to France?
>Yes, just me. Oh – the debate is beginning again. Au revoir!
He closed his laptop slowly and turned back to the TV screen. But he found it hard to concentrate.
Have you joined The Lafayette Campaign?