At an Authors Guild panel on Thursday morning, a panel of three bestselling authors criticized the traditional publishing model and advised an audience of about 60 on how best to survive and thrive as writers. The session was moderated by legal professional Jon Fine, and included writers Scott Turow, Joe Konrath, and Barbara Freethy.
Both Freethy and Konrath began their publishing careers conventionally, by having their books published by major houses, though both later turned to self-publishing. Freethy said she decided to make the switch five years ago after she began to feel that her publisher was not doing the most it could to further her career. She decided to “take control of my publishing career” by educating herself on self-publishing by reading Konrath’s self-publishing blog, and began by publishing her out-of-print backlist titles as e-books. Her first self-published novel, Summer Secret, was released in 2012 and made it to the New York Times e-book bestsellers list.
“I’ve sold six million books in the last four years,” she said. Freethy advised that authors who are willing to put in a lot of hard work should self-publish, and that the financial rewards can be great. “The more middle men between you and your readers, the less control you have, and the less money you make.” She said that self-publishing was a business and that if one is not “the kind of person who’d want to run a business,” then self-publishing wouldn’t be a good choice.
Her point that the ability to maintain control over one’s intellectual property is essential to any writer’s success was echoed by both Turow and Konrath.
While Turow is a bestselling author at a traditional publisher, he too has suffered “some of the hazards of publishing that Barbara was talking about.” Complaining that publishers “deliver less and less of what used to make traditional publishing worthwhile,” he described the author experience as “sink-or-swim.” Comparing one’s intellectual property to a “bundle of sticks,” he urged the audience “not to give away your bundle of sticks” whether being traditionally published or by self-publishing. “I’m on the side of authors, period,” he said.
Konrath recalled how, after “500 rejections” for nine novels, he obtained a six-figure advance for three titles, which worked out to about $30,000 per book. He complained that under the terms of his contract, he could not write more than one book each year. In order to make a decent living, he began publishing more often, but under pen names. “I could not consolidate under one name; I was three guys.”
Konrath began his self-publishing venture by publishing e-books of nine novels that had been rejected by publishers. He said he sold them for 99 cents on Amazon and made $1,500 in the first month. Now he says he pulls in $80,000 per month.
Whichever route writers choose to go, whether with a traditional publisher or as a self-publisher, the panelists agreed, in Konrath’s words, that writers “have to keep at it and work your butt off until you get whatever your goals are.” Self-publishing is a goal, Konrath noted, while becoming a bestselling author like Turow or Freethy “is a dream.”
“Don’t confuse the two,” he said, adding later as parting advice, “Don’t write shit. And watch what you sign.”