Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Conversation with Mark Terry--Are You Listening Lindsey Lohan?

Author Mark Terry and I both had new releases recently. My debut thriller Pocket-47 came out May 2, and Mark's fourth Derek Stillwater thriller The Valley of Shadows hit the stores June 7. Both are available in hardcover, as well as all the ebook formats.

We thought it might be interesting to chat a bit about the business, and we've decided to let the rest of the world eavesdrop...

MARK: So, your first book came out. This is actually my 13th (yikes!). For promo I did this blog tour, visiting about 20 different blogs in about 30 days or so. I was also profiled on The Big Thrill, ran an ad in The Big Thrill, and hired a publicist to do a lot of short lead promo, so my book would get reviewed by book blogs around the date of publication. It's sort of fed into a couple other things - I just got interviewed for a freelance writing e-newsletter, discussing e-book publishing. How about you? What've you been doing?

JUDE: I've done some guest blogs and some bookstore signings, and I've been active on Kindleboards and Facebook. I've done some giveaways, and I frequently leave a link when I comment on other blogs. I have an interview or two pending, and Chuck Sambuchino (one of the editors for Writer's Digest magazine) recently posted the guest column he asked me to write. Pocket-47 received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and I link to that whenever possible as well. I also have a review and interview coming up on Sons of Spade, a site specifically for lovers of fictional private investigators. What kind of sales expectations do you have for THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS?

MARK: Yeah, you received a dazzling review in PW. Very awesome. As for my sales expectations, I’m primarily hoping to sell more copies than I did of THE FALLEN. We’ll see. I’m seeing the overall marketing campaign having an effect on sales of all my e-books in general, which is nice. Have you been doing book signings? Are you enjoying them?

JUDE: I really did enjoy the signing I did at Books-A-Million in Louisville, KY, my hometown. I got to chat with some friends and family members I hadn’t seen in decades, and I sold all the books BAM had on hand along with some from the stash in my truck. For the most part, though, I don’t think signings are a very efficient way to sell books, unless you’re a celebrity or a NYT bestseller. This is especially true as ebook sales soar and print sales plummet. What are your thoughts on bookstore signings?

MARK: Although I’ve had a few good ones in terms of having pleasant chats with people – and I had a book launch party at Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookstore last year with author Craig McDonald that brought in a fair number of people (and a lot of family) that I would call a success – I’ve felt that in some ways they’ve hurt me. It has to do with expectations. Sometimes I was sold to the bookstores as this hot new author and they got excited and ordered a large number of books, which I was then unable to move at the book signing. They may have ordered 40 and I managed to move 5 or 6 at a signing, and I just feel that although it looked nice initially, it probably bit me in the butt in the long run because of returns.

And not to sound all curmudgeonly and antisocial, but that kind of cocktail party energy and presentation is slightly outside my comfort zone and I’m probably not very good at it. I’m not bad at one-on-one and even giving talks, but to do the small-talk thing at a bookstore, I’m just not sure I pull it off that well.

Some people just like playing author. I like meeting readers, they’re great, but I’m not sure I like “playing author.” I’m sort of uncomfortable with the attention. How about you?

JUDE: I would be okay with it if a lot of people showed up to buy the book. Sitting at a table and watching people stroll by trying to avoid eye contact is not my idea of a fun evening, though. If you’re not a superstar, it’s a waste of time. So that’s what we need to become. Superstars. Any ideas on how to make that happen?

MARK: Well, I’ve definitely had that experience and I thought my face was going to crack open from all those forced smiles and hellos to people who were interested in the latest book by somebody, anybody, else.

I’m inclined to think book signings don’t create successful novelists, successful novelists create successful book signings.

I don’t know. Maybe one of us – or both, I suppose – need to date Lindsey Lohan. That would get us some press coverage. I like Joe Konrath’s current business model, which involves writing a lot, primarily self-publishing e-books, and selling tons and tons of them, and not having to tour or promote.

Hasn’t quite worked that way for me, but since we’re on the subject … e-books. I’ve got a foot in both camps, with the traditional publishing, etc., and e-books, which I have published as both originals and as e-books. I find it intriguing, although I’m not a zealot like some people seem to be. Yourself?

JUDE: I think it’s smart to have a foot in both camps at this point. I know Joe and some others have had great success with self-publishing, but I’m not convinced it’s ultimately going to be the best way to go. I do think publishers are going to have to start making contracts more attractive to authors if they want to keep them around, though. Eight percent royalties on ebooks, for example, is absolutely obscene. Why would anyone take that when they can get seventy percent of the list price by self-publishing?

I have a top New York agent anxiously waiting to get her hands on my next book, so my plan is to try to get lucrative traditional deals for my novels and maybe self-publish some short stories and novellas along the way. I have one horror novella available now, although sales have been excruciatingly slow so far. So no, I’m not a zealot as far as self-publishing goes. But I do think ebooks will eventually replace print as the dominant format.

MARK: I agree with you on this. It reminds me too strongly of the hype that occurred about 10 or 15 years ago when iUniverse and other print-on-demand companies started up. It was going to be the end of publishing-as-we-know-it and some authors made a fortune and a lot of traditionally published novelists put their backlists that had gone out-of-print out, and then it faded as the typical writer discovered its limitations. There are differences now, of course. The distribution model has changed, the delivery model has changed, and the author has control of the pricing, which is a huge deal. When I published CATFISH GURU through iUniverse way back when, they did a nice job with it and it didn’t cost me anything at the time (that’s changed), but they priced the trade paperback at $17.95 at a time when hard covers were going for about $20 or so. It was a bit ahead of its time and bookstores weren’t willing to stock POD books and Amazon and online booksellers hadn’t become as dominant as they are now.

So there are differences. I think ebooks will become the dominant format, too, and if nothing else, a recent house cleaning and move of my office where I had to transfer a thousand books or so, convinced me to shift my reading over to ebooks even more than it already had simply so I don’t have to deal with moving so many books ever again.

And I can’t really tell if publishers are particularly concerned about ebook self-publishing yet or not. Mostly I hear disparaging remarks coming out of the industry, both agents and publishers, which is disheartening, because really, although I like my publisher quite a bit, the typical publisher is going to have to come up with some incentives to make them a better deal than what I can do myself through various ebook formats.

And this is going on a bit, but one thing I think traditional publishers might consider for ebook royalties is a staggered royalty with an endpoint. That is to say, perhaps a 30/70 split the first year, 50/50 the next, 70/30 the next, with an eventual point where ebook rights revert to the author. Publishers probably won’t go for it – why would they?, it represents a loss of control and revenue for them – but I think that if Amazon and B&N and Smashwords continue to offer their 70% royalties and control, and paper books continue to be marginalized, the deals traditional publishers are offering won’t make very much sense to the typical author. They’ll still be lucrative for big name authors who sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies, but for the typical midlist or below author who’s unlikely to make a living off their novels, they benefit by going on their own because they have more control, higher royalties and potentially more income delivered on a regular basis (i.e., monthly).

JUDE: I think publishers are going to have to offer some kind of royalty structure like the one you mentioned if they intend to survive. New York Times bestselling author Barry Eisler recently turned down a $500K offer from St. Martin’s Press and parted ways with his agent so he could self-publish. He subsequently signed a deal with Amazon’s new mystery/thriller imprint, so the terms of that deal must have been way more favorable than the terms with SMP. And Eisler is only the beginning. As more and more authors jump ship from the traditional houses, those houses will have to revise their boilerplates or go belly-up. You can’t very well run a publishing business without writers.

MARK: No matter how much some publishing houses would like to. It does make me wonder if, in the long run, what we’ll all look back on is that Amazon et al., changed things for the better for writers simply by taking their retail clout and then jumping into the publishing business. There has been a tendency for publishers to say, “Well, we’ve always done it that way” in regards to pricing and the hard/soft deals and the terms of contracts, returns, etc. Amazon, which is apparently driving these changes, is approaching it differently and doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about the way things have always been done.

I suspect it’s going to crush a lot of bookstores and probably not all the publishers will survive either. It seems – at least at the moment – like it’s a very favorable change for writers, for the most part, although my impression is that it’s even harder now than usual for new authors (and midlist authors) to get book contracts, advances are shrinking, and it’s hard for a $25.95 hardcover to find a readership when it’s competing with $7.00 paperbacks, and ebooks that range from $0.99 to $10.00 (or so). In some ways the changes make me sad and in other ways I find them exhilarating.

JUDE: Yep, a hardcover is pretty much a luxury item these days. I got a Kindle for Christmas last year, and I haven’t bought a single hardcover since. For that matter, I haven’t bought a single paperback either. It’s just so much easier to buy and read books electronically, and they don’t take up space and collect dust.

Well, it’s been great chatting with you, Mark. Best of luck with your new release and all your future books. All the changes going on in the industry should keep things interesting!


Blogger Alan Orloff said...

Excellent conversation, gentlemen. Should I be worried that I mostly agree with you both?

7:22 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Alan. No agreeing with us just means you're a fart smeller...

Uh, I mean a smart feller!

8:40 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Wait, wait, wait... someone AGREES with me?

7:37 AM  
Blogger Alan Orloff said...

See? I knew I should have kept my mouth shut.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm just savoring the moment.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Hi there! I found you via Erica Orloff's blog (you were guest posting). So happy to have been sent your way! :)

9:41 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Welcome, Wendy!

3:30 PM  

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