Hostility, Mr. Konrath? I think not

I often stop by J.A. Konrath’s site because he’s quite an institution. He has spent countless hours helping/teaching authors the rigors of being a published author and his various ideas on promotion. His latest post discusses his e-book success. He made this comment:

If you go to conferences and ask the editors you meet about J.A. Konrath and ebooks, you’ll get blank stares, dismissals, or outright hostility.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m thrilled for the man.

And why wouldn’t I be anything other than happy? For starters, I’m not his publisher – whew! But if I were, I’d work very hard to make him happy because he sells a lot of books. If an author has a winning combination, a publisher has to be a few paragraphs shy of a full chapter not to tap into that. Instead, his publisher has chosen to ignore him, so he’s gone on his own and become quite successful at it.

But let’s not forget that Konrath’s success didn’t appear out of thin air. As he states in his blog post:

I worked my ass off promoting that book.

Anything an author does on his/her own requires hard work, and I know of few authors who work harder than Konrath. And that’s the operative here.

Hard work.

Thar be no free lunch

It doesn’t matter whether an author publishes a book through a vanity press, a POD business plan press, or an e-book – being successful with any of those publishing options are dependent upon how hard the author is willing to work because they don’t have the safety net of a publisher. The author is on his own, so it’s up to him to establish a promotional plan that will allow him maximum exposure and distribution.

In the case of vanity and POD books, distribution is limited to the online databases like Amazon, since they are rarely on the bookshelves. Without a viable plan to get one’s book known, that book can sit on Amazon’s database ’til the cows come home. The same can be said for e-books. If no one knows your e-book exists – just as most people are unaware of someone’s vanity pubbed book – how can anyone buy it? Authors have to work double time to create demand because they are their own sales force.

My quibble with Konrath is they way he disses his mainstream publishers. They made him what he is today, so I feel it’s unfair to dismiss them so quickly. In his case, though, I feel it’s fair to say that he would be successful no matter whether he was mainstream pubbed or not because he understands how the business works and realizes that in order to sell, he has to promote. And he does this very well.

Just because he did it, doesn’t mean you can

However, Konrath is suggesting that everyone jump on the e-book bandwagon and take control of their publishing futures. It’s a great idea, but it’s folly to suggest that everyone can be as successful as he is. Make no mistake about it – promotion is hard work and dedication. Out of the thousands who go the self-e-book route, few have the walnuts to continue that kind of momentum.

Of course, there is always going to be exceptions to any rule, and Konrath lists those exceptional folks who have gone the e-book route and are doing very well even though they don’t have his platform. But what percentage do those authors represent out of the thousands who take the same route? I’m sorry, but I can’t help but feel Konrath is fueling the same feeding frenzy that vanity publishers employ –  “We’re giving you the chance you deserve!”

And I’ll say it again – not everyone is a J.A. Konrath. Or even those other authors he mentions.

And this is the crux of my boggle because I see many, many authors see his call to arms as a shortcut to success, not appreciating they don’t have the same kind of promotional fervor that one needs to successfully market a self-pubbed book.

I would never take away from anyone’s success, regardless of how they achieve it. But I do get cranky when I see a fever-pitched rally ’round the flag pole for an idea that simply isn’t appropriate for every author. He readily admits “I’ve been very lucky.”

There are no absolutes in this business, and this is where Konrath and I part company. He feels we’re dinosaurs. I’m not ready to turn in my scales and sharp teeth just yet. E-books are a viable option – just like self publishing can be – PROVIDED the author knows exactly what lies ahead of them and they understand how hard they’ll have to work to establish a platform.

But despite my small differences with Konrath, I give him a big huzzah because he’s earned it. And should anyone ask me at a conference how I feel about him, I’d them that very thing. And then I’d ask them to read this blog post because this isn’t a one-size-fits-all business, and authors need to know the other side as well.

ETA:

I also wanted to comment on his suggestion:

Think twice, and think again, before allowing anyone to buy your erights.

Let me just say that if an agent or author refused to allow the e-book rights, many editors would withdraw the contract offer. Think about that twice, and think again.

9 Responses to Hostility, Mr. Konrath? I think not

  1. sherylnantus says:

    I do wish that Mr. Konrath would sometime on his blog explore the existence of small to middle-sized publishers, such as yourself, and where they sit/stand in the Brand New World he’s envisioning.

    It seems that there’s only the NYC big boys and self-publishing with nothing inbetween. I’d like to know what he thinks of smaller outfits as far as their treatment of authors go, as he seems to view all the NYC outfits as being uber-abusive to their authors.

  2. danholloway says:

    Yes, you’ve hit the nub of it – exceptionals, and exceptions, may be role models but they’re not business models. and it’s slightly disingenuous of them to pretend otherwise (and frustrating when people make them out to be).

    I also think you’ve hit the nail on the head with something about Amazon – a book can sit there forever and never sell without promotion. But with promotion, a book would be found anywhere – so why be on Amazon rather than selling direct? OK, this is aimed primarily at niche authors because I absolutely DO see that mainstream titles and popular genres benefit from impulse buys where visibility is what matters – I really don’t think this distinction, between impulse and aspirational, is made enough. They are very different. If I’m a die hard fan of a genre author, I will seek out their next work. If I love quality translation, I will pre-order the next Peirene title. If, on the other hand, I’m bored at the airport, I’ll go for the one on the shelf that takes my fancy. These two types of title need marketing very differently – the latter requires visibility. The former requires targeted relation-building – and where that is done well, why have the book available through databases at all? Why not just go fully direct? I wonder why micropresses and self-publishers don’t consider this more.

  3. Dan, the micropresses invariably don’t have the financial resources to do targeted relation building. It takes a lot of time and energy. Being on Amazon is vital because of its ease. One never needs to get in their car.

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    Amazon, I think, does save quite a bit of work over selling direct…time that can then be spent on promotion.

  5. danholloway says:

    But my point was, you were saying that people don’t know a book is on Amazon unless they’re told. But by that token, once they’ve been told, they don’t need to head to Amazon? So selling direct for very niche audiences wouldn’t actually take any more resources.

  6. Dan, I hear what you’re saying, but in my experience, promotion and distribution must be a many-pronged approach. The idea is to make it easier on a customer to buy a book, and that means making it available in as many venues as possible.

    Let’s say you’ve given a seminar and ran out of books, yet there are still a room full of people who want the book. They can easily go home and order the book from Amazon. In all honesty, there is nothing easier than Amazon.

  7. Phoenix says:

    Konrath’s beef with his publishers seems to be mainly around agency pricing. Since I don’t blame a publisher for trying to acquire digital rights and perhaps not offering a contract that doesn’t include them, how easy is it to negotiate the price point and royalty for the resulting ebook? Is it a hardline contract point or open to negotiation in general?

  8. how easy is it to negotiate the price point and royalty for the resulting ebook?

    Phoenix, royalties can be negotiated, but an agent can’t tell a publisher what pricing model to use. It’s akin to telling the editor how to do their job. That sort of thing usually goes over like a lead balloon.

  9. Phoenix says:

    Thanks for helping to educate, Lynn! Still trying to learn and understand all the nuances around this sticky topic…

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