Episode 61 – Focus, Phones, and 10-Year Contracts

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In a show bursting with info, Jim and Bryan welcomed back Mark Dawson for the conclusion of his Facebook ad experiments. They also touched on a trio of tips related to building your author empire, the latest tools introduced at BEA, and the essentials of any marketing campaign. The top 5 news focused on mobile phone reading, John Scalzi’s 10-year publishing deal, the Authors Guild’s attempt at positive PR, Phoenix Sullivan’s analysis of Author Earnings’ data, and Orna Ross’ editorial on the true worst time to be an author. This Week’s Question of the Week: Would you take a 10-year contract if it meant financial security but that all contact with your readers would go through the publishing company?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • The results of Mark Dawson’s SMBS experiments
  • How to create your own author empire
  • The power of focus
  • The latest tools and author services from BEA
  • What three essential things should be part of your marketing
  • How many people are reading on phones
  • Why John Scalzi took a 10-year publishing deal
  • How the Authors Guild is trying to right its wrongs
  • Phoenix Sullivan’s take on the Author Earnings data
  • Why it’s not the worst time to be an author
Question of the Week: Would you take a 10-year contract if it meant financial security but that all contact with your readers would go through the publishing company?

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  • I’d love a ten year contract. You never know how challenging the self-pub marketplace might be in just a few years.

    If I heard right, he’s doing 13 books in 10 years? At the rate many authors write these days, he can self-publish other books right along side the books with Tor. He gets a guaranteed income, plus he gets to ride the wave from Tor to carry along his self-published titles if he likes.

    • Bryan

      Good point, Roland. Even just one or two extra self-pubbed titles a year could mean a lot over 10 years. Unless he has a non-compete…

  • Amar Vyas

    From a fiancial security perspective, it may make a lot of sense,but I wouldn’t do it for the following: Having a gatekeeper even for writing a simple “Thank you!” to the readers seems too impersonal. I am not sure if the reader will stick around for 1 year, let alone 10 years in this case. I do not see the value in somebody else (read: publisher) contacting the readers on my behalf. Did the reader buy the book because it was written by a particular author, or did they buy it because it was published by publisher X? Also, what will be the scope of the ‘contact’? Social media, email, even responses to blog posts? It would be scary if the publisher starts dictating who should be one’s followers on Twitter, etc.

    • Bryan

      Good questions to ask, Amar!

  • Brittany Gulbrandson

    I’d spend a lot of time researching the publisher’s viability as a company to see whether:

    A) they’re even likely to be around in 10 years, and

    B) their 10-year plan was something I was willing to get on board with.

    If it’s “keep doing things the way we’ve always done them because we like Manhattan and paper books and protecting ourselves above all else,” I would probably say no… but if it’s “connect authors with readers in the most effective ways we can find, digitally and otherwise, because that’s our job,” I’d be a lot more interested!

    • Bryan

      I think A is a big one. I’d need to look at the company’s biz plan to make sure it’s sound :).

  • A couple of things would have to happen for me to think it’s a good idea.
    – I’d like to get a healthy chunk of money up front ($ will be worth more today than in 10 years)
    – If the agreement was related to a specific series or two, not anything that pops out of my head for the next decade.
    – If I can self-publish any work outside of the agreed upon series during the 10 years period, allowing me to use their visibility momentum to benefit my own indy work.

    • Bryan

      Would definitely need a signing bonus! Non-exclusivity would be key.

  • Daniel Martone

    IF the contract only included novels written solely by me, I would be more likely to take the deal. Since I write my own stuff and co-write with my wife, it would allow me to still explore self-publishing with our work while having the security of a 10 year deal with my solo work. Yep, asking for the best of both worlds.

    • Bryan

      Ah, good point.

  • RachelMedhurst

    No, probably not. I would be extremely tempted because I’m not making a load of money on my books yet, but I’m a control freak. Plus, if I was offered that sort of money, I’d assume I was making more money than I am now. Also, I love speaking to my readers, its part of what makes me an author. 🙂

    • Bryan

      This. I’ve gotten used to my love of control :).

      • RachelMedhurst

        Me too, Bryan. I’ve actually had to train myself to not try and control quite so much. 🙂

  • Derek Siddoway

    I would probably take the deal if it was for a new series AND if I could write other books during that time period. Unless you’re already very established (as an indie or trad author), getting a smart hybrid deal is the best way to go right now, in my opinion.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, I think hybrid is great play right now.

  • Where are all these publishers that don’t want their authors to communicate with their readers? 😉

    I have several friends who are traditionally published authors, and when they asked their publishers to have a link/url to their website, the publishers agreed. They are adding readers to their mailing lists regularly. That’s certainly something that you can negotiate, as well.

    I get the skepticism, and the answers of no if the publisher won’t let you do x, but several people have said no because the publisher MIGHT do x, but that’s all in the contract, so read and negotiate.

    • Bryan

      Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. For sure.

  • It’s going to depend a lot on the contract.
    You don’t want to end up like Alf Alfa in the Little Rascals singing opera on the streets.

    • Bryan

      But I love opera!

  • Jacob Williams

    Take a look at this channel’s audiobook listings and view counts: https://www.youtube.com/user/GreatestAudioBooks/videos?sort=p&view=0&flow=grid

    • Bryan

      Nice! Lots of subscribers too.

  • Marie M.

    It would depend on where I was in my publishing career. If I was just starting out, I would probably negotiate some kind of hybrid model if a publisher wanted me that badly. However, if I was in John Scalzi’s shoes, I would take the 10 year deal. Since you guys did not know who Scalzi was, a lot of the speculation was unwarranted. He was independently publishing and blogging back in the 90’s. He is a former president of the SFFWA and a Hugo award winner. He consults for TV and his many books are currently in tv and film development deals. He does speaking engagements all over the world and is incredibly accessible to his fans. With all the plates he has spinning a deal like this makes a lot of sense. He gets to focus on all the other revenue streams and lets Tor do the heavy lifting of publishing his books in the US and foregin translations. Authors who get ten year deals generally are verysucessful and very busy running an empire (JK Rowling or Scalzi :).

  • Eddie Jakes

    I know I’m late to this discussion but I wanted to weigh in on the 10 year publishing deal. R.A. Salvatore is one of my favorite fantasy authors (I reference him a lot because he is a nice guy in person and–so far–one of the few traditionally published author that supports indie publishing) and he has said in many interviews that if you can quit then do it. Because… if you can quit than you are not a writer. From my point of view, signing a deal like that is quitting. Also in an interview Dean Wesley Smith did, he mentioned casually that a lot of his traditionally published books tend to show up first in search engines over his self-published books which have higher profits attached to them. Taking that into consideration, I would be really hesitant to sign a traditional deal, because if at the end of 10 years when you decided that you want to keep writing on your own, your “dark years?” will haunt you forever. Thoughts?

    • Bryan

      Very interesting, Eddie. I’ve heard it’s tough to keep hungry and write when you’re flush (though, I wouldn’t know what that’s like ;)). I wonder what Scalzi would say to this opinion!

  • QotW: If I knew I would be living comfortably taking a 10-year deal, I would do it, but I would question my decision if there were non-compete clauses to deal with. I don’t mind living comfortably from a financial standpoint, but I also want to live happy writing what I want to write in addition to what the publisher wants me to write.

    I think these days, being a hybrid author is the best way to do things.