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Laer Carroll
07-02-2015, 10:01 PM
I get several Publishers Weekly newsletters, sometimes one a day, sometime several. In this last week I came across a couple more notices of self-published books being picked up by trade publishers besides The Martian.

I find hard to imagine any dramatic increase in such pickups. But I suspect this is a trend which will grow, though slowly and modestly. Here are my reasons.


The QUANTITY of SP'd books is increasing, in part because it is becoming ever easier to self-publish.
The QUALITY of SP'd books is increasing. This is because the SP culture is becoming more sophisticated. For instance, forums such as this one give writers pointers on how to improve their books. And some writers listen.
The REPUTATION of SP'd books among agents, editors, and publishers is increasing because of the successes of the occasional SP'd book as a trade book. (The reverse is also true. Any time such a trade book fails to meet projections the reputation will be hurt.)

A side effect of this trend: the more success self-publishing in general has the more the competition among writers will increase. Individual writers will have a harder not an easier time!

Old Hack
07-03-2015, 12:29 AM
I think you're right that the quantity of self-published books is increasing. But I disagree with you about your other two points. And I don't think self publishing is increasing the competition among writers. Each book is individual. This has always been the case.

Dennis E. Taylor
07-03-2015, 02:03 AM
Books are not a zero-sum game in that they aren't graded on the curve. If I pick up five books and they're all good and readable, that's five wins. I'm not required to fail 10% of them.

But books are a zero-sum game in that readers generally have a budget of money and/or time, and if I simply have to pick three of those five good books, two will lose. Although I might pick them up later.

Laer Carroll
07-03-2015, 04:10 AM
Got a PM from someone wanting to know what the two additional SP-to-TP books were. Couldn't remember both, but I did the other. Here's the full story (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/67355-teen-s-self-published-book-on-bullying-picked-up-by-scholastic.html) of how Aija Mayrock's The Survival Guide to Bullying (http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-545-86053-6) was acquired by Scholastic. And a picture of the author.


http://www.publishersweekly.com/images/data/ARTICLE_PHOTO/photo/000/033/33913-1.JPG


I was especially impressed with how they handled her first book. Among the other usual actions (such having a professional editor work to improve it) they had the content reviewed by three professionals in the field of therapy and bullying.

shadowwalker
07-03-2015, 07:51 AM
If there is trend building, does it seem to be in fiction, non-fiction, or both? Just curious, since I think non-fiction has been a self-publishing "thing" longer than fiction (??) and if that's only now starting to 'make the move', how would that relate to fiction following the same trend, if at all?

Old Hack
07-03-2015, 11:09 AM
I get several Publishers Weekly newsletters, sometimes one a day, sometime several. In this last week I came across a couple more notices of self-published books being picked up by trade publishers besides The Martian.

I find hard to imagine any dramatic increase in such pickups. But I suspect this is a trend which will grow, though slowly and modestly.

I asked a few of my agent friends what they thought about this trend you're seeing and they all disputed it.

They all said that a few years ago agents and publishers were watching self published books very closely. But a lot of the books which have been trade published have not done well, and so in general the industry is pulling away from looking for self published books to sign up. This doesn't mean they'll stop it altogether, of course: but that it's been shown, mostly, to not be their best course of action.

Laer Carroll
07-04-2015, 03:44 AM
I asked a few of my agent friends what they thought about this trend you're seeing and they all disputed it.

I'm not sure "a few of my agent friends" is a reliable indicator of anything. Maybe you just have pessimistic friends! Mind giving specific links to back up their assertions?

In any case trends often go up and down and up and down again. I doubt this particular trend is any exception.

RedWombat
07-04-2015, 07:55 AM
Meh. Authors aren't in competition with each other, they're in competition with video games and TV and solitaire and checking Facebook. People who buy books tend to buy more books like the ones they enjoyed. If somebody writes a smashing fantasy gothic, people who liked it are MORE likely to buy my fantasy gothic because they want more of that, please!

Color me extremely skeptical about your last conclusion.

Old Hack
07-04-2015, 09:30 AM
I'm not sure "a few of my agent friends" is a reliable indicator of anything. Maybe you just have pessimistic friends! Mind giving specific links to back up their assertions?

In any case trends often go up and down and up and down again. I doubt this particular trend is any exception.

Yes, I do mind linking you to our private conversations. It's not going to happen. And no, my agent friends aren't pessimistic, they're extremely knowledgeable about the business they've worked in for decades, they understand which books sell and how publishing works, and they all know and understand bookselling better than most of us.

I agree with you that trends go up and down. You might like to re-read my previous comment in this thread.


Meh. Authors aren't in competition with each other, they're in competition with video games and TV and solitaire and checking Facebook. People who buy books tend to buy more books like the ones they enjoyed. If somebody writes a smashing fantasy gothic, people who liked it are MORE likely to buy my fantasy gothic because they want more of that, please!

Color me extremely skeptical about your last conclusion.

Yep.

Laer Carroll
07-04-2015, 04:58 PM
Yes, I do mind linking you to our [me and my agent friends] private conversations.

Quite understandable. Private should remain private. But referencing them makes it impossible for the rest of us to understand exactly what's being said, what nuances and caveats each agent has made. And how many agents: one/three/thirty? What kinds of agents: members of multi-agent houses, single agents, ones dealing much with foreign rights (or not)? And from where: are all the agents from the UK, the US, elsewhere?

A better alternative would be to reference public statements. Then the rest if us could evaluate the observations first hand, rather than depend on second-hand observations.


Authors aren't in competition with each other, they're in competition with video games and TV and solitaire and checking Facebook. People who buy books tend to buy more books like the ones they enjoyed. If somebody writes a smashing fantasy gothic, people who liked it are MORE likely to buy my fantasy gothic because they want more of that, please!

Authors ARE in competition with each other, though we hate to hear it. Because that sounds as if we are a bunch of savages fighting over a limited supply. We are not. When one of us has great success, the rest of us cheer them on. But indirectly we are in competition.

The point I made at the tail of the third list item is this. When a field opens up with greater opportunity more people go into it, but the average opportunity remains the same or maybe even worsens.

As an example, before vampires became popular a few years ago there were relatively few authors writing vampire stories. When one or a few very popular vampire stories made the headlines, more authors wrote vampire stories and more were published. A crowded field meant there was less opportunity for any one author to make a vampire story sale.

Result over time: the market became saturated with vampire stories- including many less-than-successful books. Publishers reduced their sales. Success had bred failure.

Which could happen to the SP-to-TP trend - the situation Old Hack's friends say already is happening.

As for me, though I try to peer through the mists of future-might, I don't really know the overall situation. I'll have to do what everyone does: wait and see what happens.

cornflake
07-04-2015, 09:42 PM
Quite understandable. Private should remain private. But referencing them makes it impossible for the rest of us to understand exactly what's being said, what nuances and caveats each agent has made. And how many agents: one/three/thirty? What kinds of agents: members of multi-agent houses, single agents, ones dealing much with foreign rights (or not)? And from where: are all the agents from the UK, the US, elsewhere?

A better alternative would be to reference public statements. Then the rest if us could evaluate the observations first hand, rather than depend on second-hand observations.

Where are you getting your ideas? The stuff in the first post strikes me the same way it did others - I read it and thought 'yes,' to the first, and 'wait, what?' to the second and third. I don't get the connection you're making there (between point a and b and c) or why you feel the latter two, or their connection to the first, exist. So where does that come from? Whether OH wants to specify how many people she spoke to or not, they're industry professionals currently working in publishing. I don't know where your information comes from besides there were a couple of pieces saying books had been picked up, but that's no measure of anything. One book out of 1,000 self-pubbed books in a month (or whatever) four years ago to three books out of 100,000 today is not an improvement in the percentage of books being picked up.


Authors ARE in competition with each other, though we hate to hear it. Because that sounds as if we are a bunch of savages fighting over a limited supply. We are not. When one of us has great success, the rest of us cheer them on. But indirectly we are in competition.

The point I made at the tail of the third list item is this. When a field opens up with greater opportunity more people go into it, but the average opportunity remains the same or maybe even worsens.

As an example, before vampires became popular a few years ago there were relatively few authors writing vampire stories. When one or a few very popular vampire stories made the headlines, more authors wrote vampire stories and more were published. A crowded field meant there was less opportunity for any one author to make a vampire story sale.

Result over time: the market became saturated with vampire stories- including many less-than-successful books. Publishers reduced their sales. Success had bred failure.

Which could happen to the SP-to-TP trend - the situation Old Hack's friends say already is happening.

As for me, though I try to peer through the mists of future-might, I don't really know the overall situation. I'll have to do what everyone does: wait and see what happens.

There was a bunch of vampire stuff, but sure, it spawned more and different and then became oversaturated. However, that's not really analogous as I see it, as we're talking about trade-published stuff, in which the decisions are made at different rates and in accordance with different matricies than self-published stuff. Self-publishers can't really decide an oversaturation point or gauge the market the same way at all.

Old Hack
07-04-2015, 10:19 PM
Quite understandable. Private should remain private. But referencing them makes it impossible for the rest of us to understand exactly what's being said, what nuances and caveats each agent has made. And how many agents: one/three/thirty? What kinds of agents: members of multi-agent houses, single agents, ones dealing much with foreign rights (or not)? And from where: are all the agents from the UK, the US, elsewhere?

A better alternative would be to reference public statements. Then the rest if us could evaluate the observations first hand, rather than depend on second-hand observations.

How does my referring to these conversations make it "it impossible for the rest of us to understand exactly what's being said"? I'm telling you what's been said. If I don't refer to the conversations you'd have no idea they had even happened, let alone what had been said in them.

Would you rather I didn't let you know what the people you're talking about are actually saying? Would you rather I didn't give what help I could because I won't link to the actual comments here?

If there were nuances or caveats I would have told you.

If you are not interested in my comments then you're free to ignore them. But I know that plenty of AW's members have found them useful. Some have even received offers as a result of my comments here. I do recommend writers to the agents I know when I see a potential match. But only when I think working with them would be a positive, rewarding experience for the agents concerned.

To answer your questions:


And how many agents: one/three/thirty?

At least fifteen.


What kinds of agents: members of multi-agent houses, single agents, ones dealing much with foreign rights (or not)?

All kinds of agents. Those from big agencies, those working alone, and several from other categories.

They all deal with foreign rights. I don't know any good agents who don't. I don't know why you specified that.


And from where: are all the agents from the UK, the US, elsewhere?

Most are from the UK and the USA. A few are from elsewhere, but only because they have moved to new countries, I think.


Authors ARE in competition with each other, though we hate to hear it.

No, they are really not.

If you go to the supermarket to buy bread, then if the brand you usually get is out of stock you'll buy another kind.

If you go to the bookshop to buy a book, you won't buy one book just because the book you wanted isn't there and think you don't need the one you wanted after all. Books are not interchangeable in the same way other products are. Each one is a separate, distinct thing.

amergina
07-05-2015, 01:19 AM
So I have a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. I just ran a search in their Deals database on the keyword "self-published" for fiction, 'cause I was curious.

So far in 2015, there are three deals. Two are for NYT Best-selling romance authors. One deal is for a *new* series by an author who hit the NYT list with her self-published series. The other is a deal for a series that made it to the NYT Best-selling list.

The third deal is SF/F and is for two self-published works of an Australian author who won the Aurealis Award with the first of those two novels.

There were 16 deals with the "self-published" keyword in the database for 2014.

2 were thrillers. One was by a former JPMorgan banker, the other by a Nebula and Campbell finalist.
2 were romance. One was just the announcement that the (NYT best-selling) author would self-publish the digital editions while a publisher would handle print. The other was a trilogy of formerly self-published books.
6 were new adult. 3 were from NYT or USA Today Best selling authors.
4 were "debut" which seems to be a catch-all for new literary fiction. One was by a USA Today best-selling author.
1 was mystery and was a USA Today best-selling author.
1 was SF/F.

Granted, this is only deals that were reported to Publisher's Marketplace. But looking at this list...what I gather is if you want your self-published book to be picked up by a trade publisher, your best bet is to be a NYT or USA Today best-selling author. Basically, sell lots.

Which means you really have to write a kick-ass book.

However, 19 deals between January of 2014 and now is a tiny tiny tiny tiny faction of the fiction deals reported to Publishers Marketplace. For the other deals... you kinda also have to write a kick-ass book.

So it seems the way to get a publishing deal, whether for a self-published book or *not* is to write a kick-ass book. Which hasn't really changed in many years.

Filigree
07-05-2015, 02:56 AM
Sadly, many newer writers resist hearing this advice, even though it is the one thing they can control.

Helix
07-05-2015, 03:06 AM
If you go to the bookshop to buy a book, you won't buy one book just because the book you wanted isn't there and think you don't need the one you wanted after all. Books are not interchangeable in the same way other products are. Each one is a separate, distinct thing.

I'll usually buy another book and then order the one I wanted. And then I'm quite likely to buy another book when I return to pick up the order. I suspect I'm not alone in that, because...yanno...books.

So that's the complete opposite of the premise in the OP.

Dennis E. Taylor
07-05-2015, 04:04 AM
I'll usually buy another book and then order the one I wanted. And then I'm quite likely to buy another book when I return to pick up the order. I suspect I'm not alone in that, because...yanno...books.


Yep. Addictive on first use. Impossible to kick.

Asha Leu
07-05-2015, 07:19 AM
I'll usually buy another book and then order the one I wanted. And then I'm quite likely to buy another book when I return to pick up the order. I suspect I'm not alone in that, because...yanno...books.

I rarely order books or buy them online (unless it's out of print and I find it on Ebay), but otherwise that's me. Walk into the bookstore intending to buy a certain book, discover its not in stock, walk out with three others, then come back a week later and buy the one I was looking for along with several more.

RedWombat
07-05-2015, 08:27 AM
Me, I read a book, go "Wow! That was awesome! I want more like that!" and go hit the "If you liked this author, you'll probably like this other author" recommendations.

I don't ever go "Nope, sorry, just bought a John Harwood, that's all the gothic I need today, better luck next time, Simone St. James."

I just don't think reader eyeballs are a scarce resource. If anything, I think that successful authors in my field make MORE readers for that field, and make it MORE likely that other people will notice my stuff, too. We're not in competition, we're in cooperation to make people want this cool thing we're all making, and the joy is that the books won't go bad, those people can read all of our stuff and don't have to pick just one of us and commit.

Laer Carroll
07-06-2015, 01:49 AM
[…Detailed statistics…]


Thanks for the detailed look at the subject at hand. Very useful.


So it seems the way to get a publishing deal, whether for a self-published book or *not* is to write a kick-ass book. Which hasn't really changed in many years.

And will never change. Which brings us to point # 2.





The QUALITY of SP'd books is increasing.

QUALITY of self-published works is a large subject. It has several parts.

The part that is improving the most, from what I can see, is the technical quality of books, both ebooks and printed books. The tools given us by SP service companies are improving, the usual result of competition and the advances that happen in every technical field. Part of that improvement is how easy the tools are to use, and how easy it is to understand their documentation.

On the user side, SP authors on the whole are becoming more savvy about using those tools. AW and other forums help with the discussions where more experienced SPers pass on advice.

Another part is the quality of SP'd writing itself, both at the lowest levels of word choice, grammar, paragraph construction, and so on. And on the higher levels, of characterization and plotting and so on. Again, AW and other such forums can help beginners improve. I suspect that the SP world is developing a culture which includes learning and discussion of general writing techniques.

Whether that IS happening, I can only guess. I can say that from my personal experience, in the three years I've been part of AW I've gained a lot and tried to put it into practice by writing, writing, writing. It's why every few months I click on AW's Subscription link (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/payments.php) and give $20-$30. It's not much, but it's my little bit to give back. Maybe someday I can make enough at this writing obsession that I can give lots bigger chunks!

izanobu
07-07-2015, 03:23 PM
Quality is rising, I think. Sure, plenty of terrible books are published, but the ones that succeed are getting better and better. They have to. I've been doing this since 2010 and what flew back then doesn't anymore. You can't half*ss things like cover art, editing, formatting etc the way you could and still sell like crazy back in 2010/2011. Just doesn't work these days. Too many quality self-pub books in the most popular genres and readers have voted for quality with their dollars.