Episode 54 – Luck, Oyster, and Seven-Figure Deals

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In another succinct episode, Bryan and Jim talked tips, news, and the most pressing questions of the publishing industry. They discussed tips related to email lists, self-promotion on social media, and the new Book Report tool. News stories included Amazon’s fake review lawsuit, three recent seven-figure publishing deals for indies, the luck factor of publishing, the reasoning behind Oyster’s new online book store, and the traditionally published author survey. This week’s Question of the Week: If you were already successful in self-publishing, would you take a five-book deal for a million dollars?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • How to submit to the Writership podcast
  • What you should email your mailing list
  • Why social media isn’t great for self promotion
  • How a new tool could help you see earnings more clearly
  • Why nobody cared about HarperCollins Amazon deal
  • Who Amazon sued for posting fake product reviews
  • The three indies who received big money deals
  • What you can and can’t control as an author
  • Why Oyster has created a new online bookstore
  • What traditionally published authors really think about publishers
Last Week’s Question: If you were already successful in self-publishing, would you take a five-book deal for a million dollars?

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  • Michael La Ronn

    I always try to answer the question of the week AFTER I listen, but by that point it’s the end of the week, so I’m just going to do it now. 🙂

    If I was already successful, I’d have to weigh the options of course. I write fast so I couldn’t sign anything with do-not compete clauses. All the money in the world wouldn’t be enough for me to withhold books from the market. But if the contract terms were favorable—ka-ching!

    • Bryan

      Ka-ching indeed :). Yeah, no way I’d do a non-compete clause.

  • cool idea with the Writership podcast… I’ve actually already been doing this for months on my Indie Author Answers podcast

    • Bryan

      Nice! You guys should collab.

  • I haven’t listened to the show yet either because I usually do on my Thursday morning commute, but I wanted to respond to the question.

    The devil is in the details with things like these. Five books is a huge commitment, which for me is about 24 months of work that I wouldn’t be working on other projects. Having said that terms like the time commitment are negotiable.

    Money aside what makes this offer attractive is the potential to reach an audience that I wouldn’t have access to. There is still a significant audience that only reads print books. If this was my only series out there than I wouldn’t go for a deal like this on the surface. However, if I had a couple of series available and were performing well then I would consider taking the risk. I do still stumble at the 5 book requirement. 3 books is much easier to swallow.

    • Bryan

      The “audience that only reads print books” thing would sway me as well. It would have to be a 2nd or 3rd series for sure. Good to see ya, Ken :).

  • Well, let’s see… a million dollars for 5 books = $200,000 per book, right? And if you are already selling a million books a year as an indie author, let’s say at a price point of $2.99 each, that’s $2,990,000 you’re already making… which is $14,950,000 over 5 years. Just doing the math, a million bucks for 5 books is a terrible deal (unless of course you are making a ton on the royalties end… which I can’t really calculate, since I don’t know how that would all shake out, and what number of books they’d expect you to sell before you’ve earned out your advance, but based on common wisdom you probably WOULDN’T make a lot from the royalties). So, bad news there.

    But, as Ken mentions, you could be accessing a new audience with this deal, which may or may not be worth the pay cut.

    I really think that if you’re already a successful indie author, selling millions of books (or millions of dollars worth of books) per year, there’s no reason to flip to traditional publishing. Indie authors who are that successful wouldn’t see any benefit, since they clearly already have their own audience, know how to write books that sell, and either kick ass at marketing or hire people who do. So why outsource it to a publisher who might, potentially, just foul it all up?

    Particularly given the piece about trad published authors not being impressed with their publishers, I would say the one million bucks for five books deal is a no-go for successful indies. But for someone who’s NOT making a million a year (or even $200,000 a year), it’s definitely more of a draw. So would *I* take that deal, as someone who’s NOT (yet) mega-successful? Yes – if only to reach that new audience and see firsthand what trad publishing can offer indies who are used to doing it all ourselves.

    • Bryan

      Good points, Laura. Thanks!

  • Good show guys. Love the part about social media. I face palm at most the stuff I see authors doing. Twitter had become something I couldn’t even look at until Colin F. Barnes gave me the tip about Lists. Now, I can ignore all the noise and just look at what I want to look at instead of people jumping up and down screaming BUY MY BOOK! And NOTHING is worse than the automated DM. It’s literally like if I was walking down the street and nodded at someone and they ran over to me and just started shoving their book in my face. Great segment.

    As far as the question, it’d be hard to say no with that much money. You never know when the indie landscape could shift out of our favor (look at the music industry), and I live so frugally now that I could set my family up for a good while with a million dollars. Plus, we are talking about 5 books. I have my whole life to write.

    • Bryan

      Lists are so good on Twitter. I need to use them more.

      That’s true. I could finally get that gold-plated cat bed with a million bucks.

  • I’d definitely consider that deal (though the deals mentioned in the podcast were much, much better, in my opinion, especially Meredith Wild’s–four of the five books in her deal have been out for a while now, which means 1) she won’t be tying up her writing schedule for the immediate future, and 2) she’s probably hit the largest segment of her core audience already with those books. I’d take her deal in a heartbeat!). But the biggest consideration for me in the deal proposed in your question would be any non-compete clause (if I recall correctly, that was removed in the Jasinda/Jack Wilder deal, which is HUGE). It also would depend a lot on the genre of the books I’d be selling–there are still a number of genres where physical books make up a huge segment of sales, and a deal like that would probably offer opportunities that self publishing wouldn’t in certain situations.

    Money isn’t my priority when it comes to decisions like that–visibility is. But even if money *were* my main concern, I’d still probably take the traditional deal. Sure, I can do the math and project how much I might make on the same books over the next ten years… but if I’ve learned anything in the two years I’ve self-published, it’s that income fluctuates like CRAZY in this business. Even bestsellers will have some releases that flop, and I know some very successful authors whose income was cut in half overnight when KU rolled out. When it comes down to it, this industry is constantly changing… and while smart authors will adjust course and roll with the changes, I don’t feel comfortable projecting what my income will be six months from now, let alone 5 or 10 years. An advance, while not 100% guaranteed money, is still more “guaranteed” than potential royalties.

    I know this is an unpopular opinion in the indie world, but I’m not sure why there’s such judgment against people who decide to traditionally publish (I saw this as someone who’s only ever self-published). To me, the decision to traditionally publish seems to be less about work ethic (some of the hardest working authors I know are traditionally published) and more about personality type–different people (or even different projects) just thrive better in different environments. It’s the same in the business world–some people truly shine when they start their own businesses, while others excel when they’re “working for the man.” Some people just work better with the structure of a team and external deadlines (an indie author can, of course, create these for herself, but it’s not always the same). Indie writers can tell trad-pubbed authors all day about how they have the potential to make more money or have more control by going indie, etc etc, but those aren’t the deciding factors for everyone when making these decisions. I’ve been writing full time for a year and a half now, and while for the most part I love it, there *are* things I miss about my 9-5 job. (For example–my work/life balance was much, much better back then, and I’ve had to do a lot of adjusting recently to keep myself sane.)

    And… as usual, what was supposed to be a quick comment turned into a novel! Hahaha. 🙂

    Great show, as usual!

    • Bryan

      Love your novels here, Ember :). Yeah, I think the income fluctuations of authorship would make me consider the deal more. I mean, say you’re H.M. Ward after her income drop. I don’t know her personally, but I imagine she’d reconsider the deal she turned down to keep things at the same level.

  • Crissy Moss

    If you sell a million books at $4.99 for a 70% royalty you have already made about $3.5 million. Even at $2.99 your making $2 million. Why would I want to sell out?

    The only reason I would sell my rights to someone else is if they can give me more value for it, like getting a movie deal, selling it over seas, or translation. Things I can’t do myself.

    $1 million for five books isn’t a lot. If it were $1 per NJ book it would be a little better. But really… If you’re already making that money hire your own team, make your own mini publishing company, and do it yourself.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, the million books per year thing is too much. But if you’re selling 100,000 per year, the million dollars would be pretty enticing.

  • Kim Smith

    Bryan, adore Mary buckham’s books!!! She will be my guest on Writer groupie next week and we discuss her new one coming out!!

    • Bryan

      Nice, you’ll have to send me the link.

  • Connie B. Dowell

    Great show again. Writership podcast looks interesting. I love hearing about new shows.

    As for the question, it would of course depend on the actual terms of the contract, but I think I’d go for it. It’s just five books out of the many I plan to write. I see it as just one more basket in which I could put my eggs.

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Connie!

  • Daniel Martone

    I would take the deal as long as there wasn’t a “no compete clause”. Kick out 5 books in a year to a year and half, then ride the promotions the publisher provides to increase all of my sales (past and future). Basically, they’re paying me $1 million and helping increase my exposure.

    • Bryan

      Woo, ride the promotions!

    • Perry Constantine

      That’s a good point. If there wasn’t a no compete clause, then I could easily say, “okay sure, I’ll give you the rights to the next five books in this series.” Given the wait time of traditional publishing, that would give me plenty of time to knock out books in other series and boost sales on them. “Hey, while you’re waiting for the publisher to put out Book #3, why don’t you try one of these other books I’ve got for sale?”

    • Jacob Williams

      I like this. And to top it off you write a prequel and novellas set in that same world.

  • #2

  • Nick Marsden

    “Number Two!” I’ll be giggling from now on….

    • Bryan

      Guys. For real.

  • yes

    • Bryan


  • Who. Does. Number 2. Work. For?


    • Bryan

      You guys. Come on.

  • Jacob Williams

    I’m going to add this to the beginning of my book. The goal is to build an email list using KU free promotion.

    • You can’t just hit and run like that.

      • Jacob Williams

        Okay. I’ve opted to add it to the Book Description first.

        Rather than make the first book in a series perma-free, make it 2.99 and tell people if they want it for free they can signup to your mailing list. Use the 5 day free promotion like this:

        May 1st-2nd
        June 1st-2nd
        July 1st

        Send an email out to everyone who signed up to your list in the last month with a link to download the book for free on Amazon. (Use your affiliate link and keyword linking tools for bonus points.)

        Maybe you’ll get less downloads than you would making it permafree. But I’d take 100 Free downloads with 100 emails over just 200 free downloads any day.

        Plus, people can still buy the book if they want it right away.

      • Jacob Williams

        This month’s focus has been about optimizing legacy content for email gathering. As you can see from the chart below, I more than doubled the amount of emails I’m getting. We’re only halfway into April and I already have more sign ups than all of March.

  • Perry Constantine

    Good question about the million dollars. I think it would depend on how successful I’ve been up until now and if I could see that success continuing. I think Jim’s idea of looking at the numbers and seeing how long it would take to get a million dollars is a good way of looking at it.

    Something else to consider as well–with this publishing deal, would I also increase the likelihood of my work being optioned for adaptations into other media, like TV or film? If so, then I might be more willing to take the deal.

    Also, I really want to make a #2 joke right now, but I’m going to restrain myself for Bryan’s sake.

    • Bryan

      I appreciate that, Perry :).

  • Edwin Downward

    The way I see it, the only reason to sign with a publishing house is the leverage they supposedly offer to take your books to the next level. Your question presupposes you’ve already achieved that goal. Hence, in theory, the publishing house had nothing left to offer and the choice is a no brainer. I’d stay with the model that works.

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Edwin. Unless you’re not interested in doing the marketing work as much anymore. Then maybe you’d pass it on.

      • Edwin Downward

        An interesting thought. Woild their marketing efforts be any bettet than what I’m doing to get this big to begin with? Would I lose flexibility? Get caught in their definition of how marketing should be done?

  • I shall now henceforth, and for all time, giggle at the #2 news item of the week. Thank you, Jim, for that.

    Hmmmm…a million dollars? If I was already making that sort of money, then no. Even as mathematically inept as I am, I can see that wouldn’t be a smart deal.

    However, if I scored a deal like that when my books were just breaking six figures, then I’d probably take it. I gotta admit, there’s a part of me that wants to walk in to any Barnes & Noble and see my book on the shelf. I’d be happy to go hybrid to make this happen.

    • Bryan


  • I would consider the deal if there was no “non-compete clause”. I would also want to know the publisher’s marketing strategy for my book (ie: distribution, movie deals, foreign markets, etc.).