[The following is an excerpt from a 7,000-word exchange between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath.  They are discussing an internal memo of Hachette Book Group that someone leaked.  The discussion becomes a paean for self-publishing.  Remember, these guys, Barry and Joe, are professional writers with dozens of books to their credit, most of them published by “legacy publishers”, their term for traditional publishers.  They have no kind words for the bulls***ter who wrote the memo, and few kind words for current claims by traditional publishers. You can read the entire discussion by following the link, but the real meat is contained in the excerpt that I quote below:]


Joe: Publishers should stop trying to convince themselves and others that they’re relevant, and start actually being relevant. Here’s how:

1. Offer much better royalties to authors.

2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week.

3. Use up-to-date accounting methods that are trackable by the author, and pay royalties monthly.

4. Lower ebook prices.

5. Stop futilely fighting piracy. Hint: all such fighting is futile. Piracy can only be made redundant with cost and convenience.

6. Start marketing effectively. Ads and catalogue copy aren’t enough. Neither is your imprint’s Twitter feed. Especially if your author has more Twitter followers than you do.

Did I miss anything?

Barry: Legacy publishing’s contracts are a disaster. Substantively, they should reflect 21st-Century realities, among those realities the fact that for the first time, authors have real alternatives to the legacy route. So absolutely, the ridiculous current 52.5%-publisher and 17.5%-author digital split needs to be massively adjusted. Again, in a digital world, publishers are unnecessary for distribution, and the fact that they’re still trying to charge for a benefit they no longer provide is an untenable state of affairs.

They also need to stop with the crazy land grabs — the first looks, the last refusals, the character and series and “anything remotely competitive” lock-ups and other non-compete clauses.

On a less substantive level, they need to make their contracts readable and understandable. Why do publishers still use antediluvian 14-inch legal paper for their contracts and 9-point font? Because it’s off-putting. It discourages anyone from reading or arguing about the contents. Why do they use such monumentally opaque and impenetrable legalese? Because they don’t want people to understand what the contract is doing — what rights are being forfeited and what obligations imposed.

About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website
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  1. I still have some very mixed feelings about self-publishing. These authors bring up some very important and urgent points, and I think they are bang on.
    BUT… So many books that are self-published are so because mainline “legacy” publishers have refused them for very good reasons. And many authors, especially new ones, have no idea that a book isn’t “publishable” until it has gone through the publishing process: thorough editing by a professional editor, consultation with a graphic designer so that the finished package is attractive, selecting a quality printer who will ensure that the book is well bound and reproduced at a reasonable price… just for examples. Then, once it’s published, there is the marketing.
    Done well, publishing a book takes a lot of time and effort… and money. And it takes a lot of specialized work that may be outside of the skill set of the author. All that is taken away from the writing time and energies of the serious author, too. Some can do it, true. But few can do it all well! Hence the need for “legacy” publishers, who have the teams in place.
    “Legacy” publishers do have an important role to play in the book industry. I agree, though, that they really need to get with the times and adapt to the needs of authors more!

  2. EJ Lavoie says:

    I cannot disagree with anything you say – it’s all true. Especially the part about traditional publishers needing to get with the times and adapt . . .
    Meanwhile, I believe writers have to adapt to the reluctance of traditional publishers to get with it.
    Yes, self-published authors do not all have the skill set necessary to publish. That means they will have to hire professional help, or otherwise enlist that help.
    And the list of quality books that traditional editors have rejected would fill a library — let me correct that — does fill several libraries — let me correct that — fills thousands and thousands of libraries. And that includes the vast majority of classics, which were at some point rejected by traditional publishers, and in many cases, were self-published before being picked up by traditional publishers. That, by the way, would include every single book in the Bible.
    Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth. I’m sure this dialogue will continue, for I will continue to post what other writers are saying on this topic. And my opinion will without fail continue to evolve. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself.” (Comment by W.W., America’s most famous self-publisher.)

  3. LOL, I don’t think the Bible was ever self-published…. And it was out long before traditional publishing was possible, unless you count monks/scribes slaving away in scriptoriums,.., in which case, the Bible probably was originally published by a traditional publisher. LOL.
    Self-publishing is probably the next oldest form of publishing to the scriptoriums, though, I guess. It is probably more ‘traditional’ than mainline publishing houses or ‘legacy’ simply by virtue of its longevity. I’m not a publishing historian. You’ve got me wondering when publishing houses began en masse to pay authors royalties instead of authors paying them to publish their works. I bet it it’s somewhere between 100-150 years, which, in the history of books, really isn’t all that long!

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