► What is also worth mentioning is that you are putting out the GFL books yourself, while having book deals with publishers for your other books. I don’t know that this is unique, but it is unusual. For you, is this the perfect situation?
The perfect version would be that we get distribution in stores ourselves, there is a huge demand for the books, and we don’t have to share that with anybody. It’s the ideal situation any creator would probably like – 100 per cent creative control, 100 per cent control over the revenue brought in, and making all the decisions. We now have distribution with our own books in stores, which was a big accomplishment. And we will do more with that in the future. But the thing a big publisher brings that is extremely difficult to do yourself is the war chest of marketing money. And they also have embedded relationships with bookstores and distributors. I can write the greatest book I’ve ever written and I can get to a certain level of success with it. There is a chance that it catches on. But it is much more likely for it to catch on if the sales reps from Del Rey – who I just signed a new, three-book deal with – go out and tell the distributors and the bookstores to push this book. This is what book buyers but also most authors never get to see: Underneath the hood, a publisher can do an enormous amount for a book that an individual author really can’t replicate. When it comes to physical books.
When it comes to ebooks, indie authors are kicking the crap out of big publishing left and right. Big publishing can’t replicate what a Hugh Howey is doing.
► That last part sounded like it should be followed by a big ‘but’…
But… when it comes to ebooks, indie authors are kicking the crap out of big publishing left and right. Big publishing can’t replicate what a Hugh Howey is doing. If they could, they would do it all the time. In bookstores that remains a different story. To borrow a phrase from indie filmmaker Robert Rodríguez: “A big publisher can turn on the money hose.” If they decide to, big publishers can make a book happen by putting enough marketing money into it. That’s something no indie author who self-publishes can do. Of course this kind of golden ticket from Willy Wonka is an opportunity not a lot of authors get, even from big publishers, but there are many levels downwards from there that are still very good. The money Crown spent on my book definitely helped my career. Any publisher who works hard for you is going to get you some kind of advantage. Of course it is an advantage that you pay for with the percentages, but that’s why we do both. We have 100 per cent control over the books in the GFL series, but we’re also going to put out the Generations trilogy with Del Rey, which hopefully will bring me readers I wouldn’t be able to get myself.
► A thought experiment here, since you conceivably won’t ever have to make this decision: If you had to pick one – put out all the books yourself or only publish through another publisher – which would it be?
We’d absolutely do it on our own. As I said before, we’d have 100 per cent creative control. We’d get to determine what we put out and when we put it out. And as technology changes, we’re only going to get more flexible in doing it. The concept of putting out your own audiobooks wasn’t available only a short ten years ago. Now we put out the audiobooks of the GFL series and we also have the audiobook rights to Pandemic, Nocturnal as well as the Generations trilogy. That’s a huge part of our company’s income right now. You know, it’s the things you don’t know about today that will be there five years from now – that’s why I would automatically choose to put everything out myself if I had to make that choice. But, as you said, that’s fortunately not a choice I have to make.
► When you do talk to a publisher, do they ask for the audiobook rights? Or do they just hope you’ll sign them away without noticing? And how difficult is it to hold on to those rights?
Big publishing are corporations. They are big business. The first contract they hand an author is extremely advantageous towards the company. If you’re a creator of any stripe – movies, books, TV, YouTube, art, anything – and you’re going to sign just what they give you, you’re not going to be happy with the results of that if you ever become successful. It’s always a matter of negotiations. There is this perception in the indie world that corporations are inherently evil and that they want to screw you. To which I say: Sort of. If you’re willing to take what they offer, they definitely won’t give you anything for free. But you can push back, and every time I’ve done that, I found them open to the conversation. Of course there are many areas that are deal breakers to them, and if you insist on getting something specific they are not willing to give, you won’t publish with that company. Most of the time, though, they are open to negotiations. Let me give you an example. With Random House I had one stipulation for the contract: I wanted to be able to continue putting out my books for free as podcasts – if you don’t want that, don’t sign me. They agreed to it. Then three books in, they felt that the free podcasts were hurting their sales. So they decided to just not put out book four and five as audiobooks. When I found out about that, I asked if I can have those rights back, expecting this giant battle with them. But they just gave them to me. Now, when I dealt with Del Rey – which is a division of Random House – they wanted the rights to the audiobooks. But I told them that I’ve dealt with their audiobook wing once and this is what happened, so it makes no sense for me to go to the same people who aren’t interested in putting out my audiobooks anyway. And their response was to give us those rights. So it worked once, it worked twice, and should there ever be a big publishing deal on the table that isn’t with Del Rey, I’m sure it’s going to work again. They are much more interested in the ebook rights anyway at the moment. They would have not given us those, no matter what.
► On a scale from ‘not at all’ to ‘extremely’, how stupid would you say is it to sign your audiobook rights away just in order to make a deal happen?
I’d say that depends on where you are in your career. For a new writer I’d say it’s not stupid at all. The difference is that when I negotiate a contract, they want me because of my sales records. If you have never published a book, you can try and negotiate on a lot of things, but you simply don’t have a lot of leverage. Let’s say you are negotiating a three-book deal Random House or Simon & Schuster or anyone, and the terms are not very beneficial to you. Of course you can push back and try to get exactly the conditions you want. But at the end of the day, you want that deal. Giving up ebook and audiobook rights for a first book that has no sales yet is fine. If you have already sold a million ebooks, there is a whole different reason why they want to talk to you. Then you can ask for pretty much anything you want, because there will be a few more companies fighting for your business. Which is why going out and doing your first couple of novels as ebooks and learning how the business works before you even talk to a big publisher is going to pay off for you down the road a lot more. Like any coach in pro sports is going to tell you: You have to get on the scoreboard first. You have to go out there and show that you belong in this industry. :x:
This interview first appeared in issue no.1 of XCENTS.
photo credit featured image: Amy Davis-Roth
Interview by Ewan McGee.