I didn't see another thread about this, so I thought I'd post it here. It's an email I received through Agent Query Connect.
It looks to me like typical naivety on the part of a person or group of people who think they're going to come up with the next revolution in publishing, but just in case it's more than that (like a malicious scammer trying to bait disenfranchised writers) I wanted to post the message for others to see and discuss.
My name is Al Birtch and I am a senior level Business Executive in Canada (my day job) and an aspiring author by night (psychological thrillers and international suspense with 4 novels at draft 2 stage). I am also an inventor with 1 product in the fairly advanced stage of the multi-year patent process. A device that finally gets rid of the plumbers-pants / butt-cleavage problem with low-rise jeans that it seems women universally hate about the fashion.
I am writing to a few authors to discuss / get their feedback on a new model of connecting writers with the reading public. I am asking / in fact needing feedback from other authors to see if I am on the right track or not. I am investing more than a few bucks to make this happen and my chance of success improves with the more feedback I can get.
But first a short background on my own experience at the writing game and to share with you what drove me to work on a solution for myself and others who are experiencing the same thing. It is simply a fact that the industry insiders will tell you that 95% of all authors will never get an agent/publisher deal - - even with quality work ----because the supply of material way outstrips demand.
On the writing side I do not yet have an agent but have been fortunate to have some previously unknown to me industry insiders read 1 of my novels - - and below is who they are and what they said.
• Lou Aronica, former SVP Avon and Bantam
• Keith Ferrell, former editor-in-chief of Omni magazine
• Ben Famiglietti, executive assistant to Harvey Weinstein
• Jennifer Bessor, editor at Miramax books division
In each case I have received some guidance of course, but exceedingly strong support of each individual including their willingness to discuss their views of my storytelling ability with prospective agents. Each enthusiastically gave me a quote to use as I start the search for an agent.
• Aronica: Legacy of Greed is a highly commercial project. Legacy of Greed is a crisply written thriller with a harrowing and distinctive hook. Al Birtch did a powerful job creating sympathetic characters and throwing them into the maelstrom. I think there’s a strong market for this novel among readers of Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Douglas Preston, and James Rollins.
• Ferrell: In LEGACY OF GREED Al Birtch combines a deep understanding of international business and politics with well-drawn characters and a sharp, sure sense of human evil. The conspiracy at the heart of the novel is all too plausible, its consequences believable, terrifying, heartbreaking. LEGACY OF GREED scared the hell out of me.
• Famiglietti: Legacy of Greed is a taught thriller with appeal in both the book and screen formats. The resolution is evocative and highly cinematic.
• Bessor: You have real gifts as a writer—a wonderfully rich imagination, a natural sense of pacing, and an obvious ear for dialogue. There is a vigor and energy to your writing, and you possess a remarkable aptitude for unfolding the narrative at just the right pace, revealing enough information to keep the reader interested without dampening the suspense.
Now you would think (at least I did) that with all that support, and the permission of those folks to use their quotes, that landing an agent shouldn't be all that difficult. Not true. 3 years of trying, over 300 queries sent and only 3 requests for sample few pages.
Later in the search process an extremely high priced NYC based editor ($20,000 per manuscript) who already edits for a couple of household names told me that the advent of the computer has saturated the market with literary works. It is now easy for the less-than-dedicated, yet still reasonably talented writers to put out their works with less effort. As such the market is saturated. In his experience at least a 1000 decently written books a year will never see the light of day for that very reason. There are only so many consumers $$$ dedicated to book buying market and at $20 a hard copy and $10 a soft copy - - -the # of books those $$ can buy is finite.
So, being a tad stubborn and an inventor and business executive, I knew there had to be a better way. I love nothing more than finding a problem (be it women’s blue jeans or the literary world) and then coming up with a solution to it. And having a 1000 well written stories (including mine!!!) get the cold shoulder from agents & publishers seems to me like a problem that is dying to be solved.
Now to the point of writing to you.
To my kind of out-there-where-the-buses-don't-run thinking, there are 2 key points:
1) Only the buying public (not an agent or publisher) should be the authoritative voice on whether your writing is good or not, is commercially viable or not - - - - and
2) the business model of author, agent, publisher, retailer, then finally to buying public is outdated and not only gets in the road of the public judging the authors works (#1 above) but also drives the price of literature too high (too many hands in the till needing to get paid) and this limits the volume of books the public gets for their $$$. Now there will always be a role for the agent/publisher. albeit diminishing- - but there is a huge void that is horribly serviced right now for those of us in the vast pre-agent wasteland.
Now layer on top of those points the major strides in technology to e-books (witness all major store-front retailers now offering e-books not to mention e-tailers such as Amazon and I-Books from Apple) - - -- - - - - and the future of book retailing is clear. But - - and this is the BIG BUT------Everyone of those suppliers today in the e-book business is still following the old business model of Author, agent, publisher- - - now e-tailer versus retailer and as such the price is still the same to the public. All these businesses have really changed is the delivery model from paper to digital. And this model keeps the price up.
The only option today to those thousand per year well written books and un-agented authors is the self-publishing world - - and that is a well documented dead end road. And it can be either fairly expensive front end costs for "each book" to get set up by a self-publisher or they want a rather high "per novel sold fee" which still drives up the cost to the public. And when you look at wikipedia for some of those self-publishing companies - - - the legal wrangling, law suits and the disgruntled authors stories are simply awful.
But, I believe self-publishing may still be viable for the 95% of us - - - but the model (the reason for self-publishing to exist), the cost (to author and to buying public), the usability by the author, the usability by the buying public - -- - all of this has to be dramatically re-thought.
Self-publishing needs to be an incubator of new authors and a vehicle for previously agented/published authors. Instead of a way to by-pass the agent/publisher world, it needs to be a pre-cursor to that world. A feeder pipeline that they (agents/ publishers) will come to use as a way to source emerging authors that have already established a bit of a following--not tell them "you are tainted because you self-published". . A place that the author can point an agent to where he/she can show the agent solid data on sales to-date, feedback from people who purchased the novel---and much, much more. The way I see it is the literary world needs a model like the sports world of baseball and hockey. The “major leagues” not only support but actually invest in a healthy farm system, the triple-A league. That is where their future talent comes from. That is the system that nurtures and develops the all-stars of tomorrow. Not only that, but the triple-A farm teams have huge public followings at their games. It is a way for the sports-loving public to see a quality game, solid players and yes—future all-stars for a reasonable price. Triple-A and the major leagues work hand-in-hand, not against each other like self-publishing and the agent/publisher world now do. And, and this is VERY important - - - the majority of triple-A players will never reach the majors. It’s just a fact. So, when I compare that fact to writing, if on a personal level, even with the support of this new model, my own writing skills never get me to the majors. Yes, I will be disappointed, but - - if I develop a decent fan base at the triple-A level, well - - - that will keep me writing and not a bad 2nd prize to my way of thinking.
It is this new model that I am writing to you about today and asking for your candid thoughts/feedback.
The goal is simple. Get the authors works out there for the buying public to access at a very reasonable cost (notionally $5 or less)and give the author invaluable direct and unfiltered feedback from the people who buy their works.
The key issue as I see it is helping authors see how this model is significantly different from the swarm of self-publishing options out there today.
Yes - - - in the purest sense this is self-publishing, but it is owned by an author for authors---- and it will provides more features and buyer access at way, way lower cost to both author and buyer.
Our design is to keep this "robust, yet simple". Here is the 20,000 foot view:
. We will only be distributing digital copies of books. We firmly believe that is the future. All you have to do is look at the sizable investment Hewlet-Packard, IBM, Dell, Apple and others are putting into making even friendlier portable hardware specifically for reading digital books to know that is the future. We will not be offering a hard copy option.
. We plan to advertise the site (and are not ashamed of this, actually proud) by word of mouth. We have plans for extensive use of the massive marketing potential of various Social Networking sites out there (Facebook, U-tube, Twitter, literary chat rooms and many, many more) to get the word out there about a new and affordable way to buy literature and discover new emerging authors. We intend to strongly encourage (read - - -nag ) our author members to help themselves (and fellow site members) by doing the same.
. We will make the site "complete 1-stop shopping". By that I mean that I have reviewed other web sites about emerging authors and they invariably don't actually sell the authors book, rather they have links to the new author's web site. I spent 2 hours yesterday on 3 such sites and more than 30% of the time when I clicked on the hot-link to the author's web site I got a message back that the site had been closed. It was a big waste of my time - - and so will be viewed that way by others as well.
. Our site will have fiction and non-fiction. The visitor will be able to search (and this is just a description of a few of the sites functions) by genre, by title, by author. They will be able to see (again by genre) titles ranked by sales volume - - this month / this quarter / this year. We will have feature stories on individual authors so the readers can learn more about them.
. Once the visitor selects an author, they will go to a spot on our site dedicated to that author and only that author, which will include author bio, picture, picture of jacket covers for all books available on our site by that author. When a book title is selected the visitor will see the "teaser" and also be able to read the first chapter for free. They will also see ratings (5 star system) provided by previous purchasers of the novel---IE- 65 raters said 4 stars, 16 said 3 stars, 2 rated 1 star. There will also be the capability to e-mail the author direct, but only if the author wants this feature. There will be a "shopping cart" to allow the visitor to purchase 1 or more novels at the same time using PayPal.
. For the author there will be several "behind the scenes" features that only that author can see about their personal results (password protected) . IE: Knowing how many hits your section has had this month / quarter / year to date. # of sales broken out the same way for each novel the author has on the site. Sales not only by title but by geographic region the sales occurred in. Ratings feedback from buyers including a short free-form comments section. As mentioned, capability to have private e-mail exchanges (not visible to us) with their fans. Also the ability to display "coming soon" novels they are working on for their fans. Proceeds from sales will be remitted to the author monthly.
So far 36% of the authors I emailed this query to have already contacted me which is gratifying result.
Each author has asked questions, made suggestions for improvement of the sites features and services ---all of which are greatly appreciated.
We are also at the stage of discussing - - yup - - money. We know we want the end product to be available to the public at around $5. We know we want the author to reap the lion’s share of that versus the 15% they get from agent/publishers now. We know that we (the site owners) have to recover the cost of both building and running the site plus a reasonable profit margin. And we BELIEVE in our goal and that we can create a 3 way win (author, buying public, us).
So here is where we are now in our thinking:
Each author would pay an annual membership fee to have their works on the site. Unlike other self-publishing, this cost to the author would be the same regardless of whether they have 1 book on the site or 8. It’s a flat fee to be a member. At this stage we are thinking of $500 per year. Also, having a fee will help ensure that authors whose works do not garner public appeal will self-select to exit the site as it would be cost prohibitive. That also helps us reduce any unwanted clutter.
The author would be given 2 different options of establishing the section of the site dedicated to them. Self-service via a series of templates we send them and they create their section and upload their book(s). Very low cost option - - - probably $20 per novel ($ fee NOT cast in stone). The other option would be for the author (if not technically comfortable) to send us the info and we would create the site. Notionally $100 for initial set up and $30 for each additional novel after the 1st one. Again - - pricing here not cast in stone.
The author would get $3.50 of every $5 novel sold and we would keep $1.50. That way an author (if only 1 novel on the site) would need to sell approx 150 copies of their book in a year to recover their costs if they used the self-serve option and approx 170 copies if they selected the most expensive option of us setting it up for them. The contract would be renewable yearly, that way if the author does not succeed in garnering a sufficient fan base / sales to warrant continuing, then they can exit. For a cost of just over $500 the member author would have had 12 months on a worldwide web site (which we know they could and maybe have already done by building their own website) but they would be on a site that will be launching with an initial 100 authors, a marketing game plan and plans to expand that rapidly. That way the site will become known as a destination point to look for literature at a reasonable price and the authors works will have been exposed to exponentially more potential buyers than unknown authors own personal web-site could ever hope to achieve. A pretty good value for money in our view - - but we need your thoughts on this.
That's the 20,000 foot view. Sorry for the lengthy e-mail but a lot of info to cover. I would really appreciate your feedback on functionality and notional pricing.
I am also creating an Newsletter for distribution to authors interested in the new model so that they can follow our progress as we build the new system (about 3-4 more months of programming and quality assurance testing to go).
I am away from my desk-top a lot, and while I can get advised of your reply on my Blackberry by Agent Query, my Blackberry will not let me access it and reply to you. For that reason, would you please reply direct to me at email@example.com
Also - - if you would like to learn more, send me your e-mail and that way I can reply direct from my BB.