Leaked: Hachette Document Explains Why Publishers Are Relevant

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

With self-publishing tools proliferating and traditional publishing business models in flux, authors, agents and book-industry observers have been increasingly debating the relevance of publishing companies.

In his obituary to the year-long Domino Project, Seth Godin wrote that publishing companies and other traditional players that do not adapt to new modes of doing business will go extinct. Others have suggested the same.

Meanwhile, some authors like J.A. Konrath and David Gaughran have eschewed traditional relationships with publishers to create and distribute their work on their own. In the aftermath to the Book Country self-publishing tool launch from Penguin, some outspoken critics took the announcement as an opportunity to question publishers’ relevance.

Hachette Book Group, one of the world’s largest publishing companies, has a response. In a document leaked today to Digital Book World by someone inside the company, Hachette outlines just why publishers are relevant. The company has shown the document internally to employees and externally to a limited number of agents and authors.

“You have to take a long look at what you’re up to and how you’re changing and adapting,” said a Hachette executive who preferred not to be named and who confirmed the authenticity of the document. “We’re all trying to come up with good messaging.”

The executive explained that the document is a continual work-in-progress and would evolve as the publishing business evolved.

Related: J.A. Konrath Responds With Advice for Publishers | Exclusive Q&A With Hachette Digital Chief Maja Thomas

The document in its entirety below:

“Self-publishing” is a misnomer.

Publishing requires a complex series of engagements, both behind the scenes and public facing. Digital distribution (which is what most people mean when they say self-publishing) is just one of the components of bringing a book to market and helping the public take notice of it.

As a full service publisher, Hachette Book Group offers a wide array of services to authors:


1. Curator: We find and nurture talent:

• We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG  discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest.

• We act as content collaborator, focused on nurturing writing talent, fostering rich relationships with our authors, providing them with expert editorial advice on their writing, and tackling a huge variety of issues on their behalf.


2. Venture Capitalist: We fund the author’s writing process:

• At HBG we invest in ideas. In the form of advances, we allow authors the time and resources to research and write. In addition we invest continuously in infrastructure, tools, and partnerships that make HBG a great publisher partner.


3. Sales and Distribution Specialist: We ensure widest possible audience:

• Weget our books to the right place, in the right numbers, and at the right time (this applies equally to print and digital editions). We work with retailers and distribution partners to ensure that every book has the opportunity to reach the widest possible readership.

• We ensure broad distribution and master supply chain complexity, in both digital and physical formats.

• We function as a new market pioneer, exploring and experimenting with new ideas in every area of our business and investing in those new ideas – even if, in some cases, a positive outcome is not guaranteed (as with apps and enhanced ebooks).

• We act as a price and promotion specialist (coordinating 250+ monthly, weekly and daily deals on ebooks at all accounts).


4. Brand Builder and Copyright Watchdog: We build author brands and protect their intellectual property:

• Publishers generate and spread excitement, always looking for new ways make our authors and their books stand out.  We’re able to connect books with readers in a meaningful way.

• We offer marketing and publicity expertise, presenting a book to the marketplace in exactly the right way, and ensuring that intelligence, creativity, and business acumen inform our strategy.

• We protect authors’ intellectual property through strict anti-piracy measures and territorial controls.

Related: Is Seth Godin Right About Publishing? | J.A. Konrath Responds With Advice for Publishers | Exclusive Q&A With Hachette Digital Chief Maja Thomas

Hear more insight into what publishers have to say and about the future of the book business at Digital Book World Conference + Expo 2012, this January 23-25 in New York. More>>>

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

46 thoughts on “Leaked: Hachette Document Explains Why Publishers Are Relevant

  1. Matt Mullin

    “We act as a price and promotion specialist (coordinating 250+ monthly, weekly and daily deals on ebooks at all accounts).”

    This might be the most important point in the document. It’s simpler to experiment with price when a title is distributed through one account, like Nook or Kindle. Coordinating deals through all digital channels is more difficult. As long as the market remains relatively diverse, that sort of pricing specialization will become increasingly important.

    1. Cath @ Constance Reader

      Don’t publishing houses sort of need to disparage the self-publishing process? I am not saying Hatchette does this–I have reviewed for them and they’ve been great and I think this memo shows a lot of insight. But if the self-publishing process becomes too easy, too lucrative, then they’re going to lose revenue. They kind of have to root for it to fail.

  2. Paul

    @ Matt Mullin

    \This might be the most important point in the document. It’s simpler to experiment with price when a title is distributed through one account, like Nook or Kindle. Coordinating deals through all digital channels is more difficult. As long as the market remains relatively diverse, that sort of pricing specialization will become increasingly important.\

    Amazon is particularly adept at lowering the price of a self-published title to match the lowest price offered elsewhere automatically (createspace, bn, apple bookstore). I suspect that all of the ebook retail outlets have the same capacity. Raising the price is a bit more difficult.

  3. Anon

    It’s true that publishing houses provide those services, authors just need to ask whether those services depicted warrant the (approximately) 85% they take on the sale of each book. Self publishing only takes 30% and leaves the authors more control over their rights.

    1. Anonatron

      Publishers take 85%? Do you mean that authors get 15% of list price as a royalty? Because that does not leave publishers with 85% of revenues. Retailers take a cut, too. From a book priced at $30, a publisher will get an average of $15 in revenue. The author, paid 15% list price royalty, gets $4.50, which is 30% of that $15 in revenues. It ain’t 70%, sure, but if you’re self-publishing e-books through Amazon it’s unlikely you’ll do too well by charging anything over $7.99. (70% of 7.99 is $5.60, by the way.)

      1. Edward G. Talbot

        Sure, but that’s for a hardcover. “Standard” ebook royalties paid to authors are 25% of the 70% cut that publishers get. On a $9.99 ebook, that means the author gets less than if the author published the book herself for $2.99.

        As I said in my other comment, the tradeoff may be worth it for some authors. Authors may conclude that the net is that they make more money because they sell more, via more channels, with a publisher. Or because of the other things a publisher offers. Big-name authors may be getting better than the standard royalties also.

      2. Anon

        Echoing what Edward said…that’s based on 15% of suggested retail price royalty (normally you don’t start there and assuming an author doesn’t get screwed with some net-profit deal). Publishing houses used to provide A LOT more to justify the take they took. You needed them to get shelf space (but say goodbye to brick and mortar stores). And you needed them for advertising / marketing / publicity (but publishing houses are generally weak in those spheres and mostly rely on authors to do that, now) and you needed them to actually print the books (but that’s not the case now, either). So why should they still take the same percentage?

        Also, as long as we’re playing with numbers…let’s look at an ebook. If I’m a publisher, I’m uploading the book and letting it sell, same thing an author would do. Let’s say we price the book at $9.99 from the publisher. As an author, I get 25% of NET on that sale…so the publishing house takes the 70/30 split from Amazon and gets $7, then they take out whatever overhead they use to justify their costs to upload the document..let’s be fair and say that’s only $2, which brings us down to $5. Now, I get 25% of that which is $1.25, less the 15% going to my agent…so that’s lik $1.07 on the $10 sale. If I as an author offer my material to readers at $5 (50% off publishing house cost) I get 70% of $5 which is $3.50…almost 3x what I get from the publishing house sale and they’re doing the same thing…Keep that in mind as the ebook market share continues to grow and the number of hardcover books greatly declines (paperback is another pricing model).

        Yes, if I don’t have an initial deal then I don’t get an advance and I have to pay out of pocket. But why take an advance of $10,000 as a first time author and be splitting profits with a publishing house for the rest of my life… That doesn’t make sense to me. Especially when they buy it, take a portion of the profit, but don’t do anything to actually SELL it. An author might have to invest some money on an outside editor, but the upside of the backend easily justifies that.


    2. amelia

      I want to say also that authors who self-publish may be able to keep more of their sales, but they will also be paying out of pocket for professional development editing, line editing, copyediting, design, cover art etc. or paying in writing time by learning how to do each of these things themselves. There is no free lunch here whichever way you look at it, and whoever has distributed and marketed their own quality ebook successfully and profitably has my deep respect.

  4. Edward G. Talbot

    I think it’s an accurate summary of what traditional publishers offer. But the lede is dead-wrong and bass ackwards. If I generate a properly formatted epub and mobi file, that’s \self-publishing\ the same way Hachette doing a print run is corporate publishing. I don’t handle the sales, but then again, neither does Hachette. I hire someone to do editing and covers the same way any sole proprietor contracts out various tasks. I’m not sure what Hachette hopes to accomplish with such a false and ultimately meaningless distinction.

    Internet noise aside, the question has always been and remains how important those things are to authors and readers. As digital content continues to gain market share, the answer to that will probably be a moving target. I could outline a point by point rebuttal of for me personally, most of these items are not compelling. Another author might find nearly all of them compelling.

    But it all comes down to whether enough bestselling authors stay with traditional publishers. That includes the bestsellers of tomorrow, some of whom will have built their success through self-publishing or alternatives like the new Amazon imprints. If they do stay with trad pub, the publishers should be just fine. If not, publishers are in trouble. For some authors, the standard 17.5% of sales price (note: I’m sure King, Patterson, Grisham, etc. get more) instead of 70% is a reasonable tradeoff for not having to drop $1000+ up front for covers and editing, not having to worry about distribution, and having the imprimateur of a publisher.

    My only prediction is that we see some serious shakeups in 2012. I can’t say that it will be big authors jumping ship, but there are too many different new forces for things to remain in roughly the same situation a year from now as now. The big news in 2011 was publishers winning the battle over price – their latest sales numbers show that readers are paying what they’re asking. The other big news was Amazon’s challenge to the publishers’ core business making its first real steps. I’d say the latter is what has the most potential for fireworks in 2012.

    1. Jeremy Greenfield Post author

      Great comment, Edward.

      I think one thing not being asked here is, are there large, ambitious projects that absolutely require a large company behind them to accomplish and cannot be accomplished through self-publishing?

      My imperfect analogy might be something like, it takes a big company to build a train.

      Are there “trains” in book publishing? I would suspect there are. That said, many books are not “trains.”

      1. Edward G. Talbot

        That is an excellent question, Jeremy. And I suspect you’re correct that there are some.

        The whole issue is that individuals need to weigh the pros and cons. The Hachette release is essentially an advertisement – a list of everything they offer, spun in the best possible light. The fact that they felt the need for such a document is more significant than anything the document actually says.

  5. James

    What’s the big deal? This “leaked” document contains nothing new. It is worded to make legacy publishers look as good as possible, of course, but contains no new information or perspectives. The validity of every one of the points made in this document has been argued thoroughly and vehemently over the past decade.

    If Hachette limits their definition of self-publishing to digital distribution, that’s their mistake. Done right, self-publishing includes most, if not all, of the services they claim to offer their authors. Those services just take a different shape (and happen much faster) when they aren’t backed by a bureaucracy.

  6. pam eglinski

    the point about royalties is very well said. as a writer, i finally have my life, as a writer, in my own hands. I like it that way. tired of fighting through the lit agents to get to a publisher who pays me 15% in royalties. Rather do it all my self, and for that matter, i’ll do it better.

  7. Burnt Bridge

    Almost all of this is patently false, but most especially this joke: “We identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace. HBG discovers new voices, and separates the remarkable from the rest.” <– this from the publisher of Twilight, the Ozzy medical memoir, and other dreck.

    No, the truth, plain and simple, is that publishers are capitalist businesses, and they do what makes money for them. That is the only defense they need. I am a capitalist, as well. If I want to make money, then I will endeavor to partner with an established capitalist in the self-same industry. If they do not wish to do business with me, then I will locate another route, and if in the process of working toward my own capitalist success, some older, more traditional businesses fail, then that is not my problem. I will not stand with whatever imagined coalition there is that holds that big publishers are some kind of ardent defenders of romantic/artistic ideals.

    We're business people. Some will rise. Some will fall. Time will tell.

    And, quitters never win.

  8. Linton RobinsonLinton Robinson

    Self-publishing doesn’t exist?
    Well, self-delusion is apparently alive and well.

    Some of this verges on surrealistic humor. The idea that publishing companies are necessary to find talent is so backwards-headed you don’t know which side of your head to scratch. It’s like the \gatekeeper\ thing–only meaningful in the outmoded context.
    The idea of publishers start-up financing writers is practically disgusting. Yeah, after spending years trying to get a contract, that three thousand dollar advance will keep you humming along, all right.

    I thought about the idea that there are projects so large and ambitious that they require publishing companies, but kind of wonder. I have had a project like that in mind myself, for years. I always thought of it terms of working under the aegis of of a publisher, but at this point wonder if it wouldn’t just be better to do it independently, and reap realistic returns.
    Don’t banks finance such things? Do you think a loan officer would look around for gatekeepers (or adult supervisors or whatever these outmoded companies thing they are) if Amanda Hocking or John Locke came to them proposing hiring a team to launch some big literary project?
    (My guess is, they’d be happier than if Hatchette came by with hats in hand)

    You look at the online serial community, as shown best on Web Fiction Guide and you see some pretty large, ambitious projects. Dan Leo, for example. Completely independent. And with the capacity to spin out ebooks and even print books with zero capitalization. (POD SP means that customers finance the means of production)

    It’s just one more example of straw-clutching.
    A good test for whether my unknown comments challenge a poobah of that fairly dysfunctional industry comes in that first statement that there is no self-publishing because putting an ebook up on amazon somehow entails so much more than all that. You can be a self-employed construction contractor, apparently, but not a self-published writer.
    The phrase \bringing a book to the market\ is the big clue of inability to shift past the current safe decks of the Titanic. Every day some big publisher announces that they no longer print books.

    Wouldn’t it be less wordy to just start singing \Nearer my God to thee\ and not try to handicap the chances of writers and publishers working the new models?

  9. Carolyn

    Hatchette’s “leaked” memo is right on the money. Big publishing houses will need to work fast and smart to compete in this rapidly changing world of publishing. I represent a small primarily digital publishing house which is experiencing rapid growth due in large part to assertive adaptation in this market. We are thoroughly enjoying the new frontier of digital publishing which is (for now) leveling the playing field. There are great rewards for authors and publishers who are willing to collaborate, adapt, and take risks.

  10. Yveta

    You are absolutely right! Big publishers looking for talent? Maybe. But first and foremost, they are looking for manuscripts they think will make money. They saw the sudden success of Twilight and, all of a sudden, readers were swamped by countless vampire/werewolf books. Were they truly looking for talent or were they really capitalizing on the mood their target market was in? I think the later… Any business savvy writer can do what they do, the only difference is they have deeper pockets and better print distribution channels. These advantages matter a lot less when it comes to e-books.

  11. Linton RobinsonLinton Robinson

    I wish the WERE just looking for bottom line. They pretty obviously aren’t…unless they are failing the majority of the time. The percentage of their books that turn a profit is abysmal.

    No, one of the “heritage” things they suffer from is the whole idea of giving buyers what they think they should have. And agents make it that much worse.


    And if you think agents are driven by bottom line, instead of what they think is wonderful, just go through Agent Query sometime, looking at the profiles. How big is the market for “judaica” for crisakes? Yet vast amount of agents and editors are looking for it.

    Meanwhile they are overlooking writers that often end up doing quite well on their own hook.

    And, sorry, there IS a free lunch. I do my own editing, covers, etc. It’s not like that’s time costing me from writing–if I could just sit down and sell everything I wrote, immediately, it would be wonderful, but nobody expects that.
    The technology involved in creating an ebook and selling it online is so friction free that it’s ridiculous even comparing it to what goes on at a publishing house.

    Bottom line… they are plagued with legacy nonsense that’s bringing them down. They offer 100% return on wholesale orders. How stupid is THAT?
    They pay advances against royalties, often huge ones that they end up eating. How stupid is that?
    They let agents decide what books and writers they get to see. Guess what, not all readers out there are NYU lit majors in Manhattan.

    These are not normal business practices and are self-destructive. The advent of ebooks and online buying has brought the weaknesses to light and they are edging out of print production.
    Take away the capital advantages of that, and why are they needed?

    More important, why are they viable?

    1. Edward G. Talbot

      They’re viable because most of the authors making them a profit are sticking with them. And because readers are willing to pay high prices for ebooks by those authors. If either of those facts change, publishers will start to be in trouble. But those facts have not changed. No matter how much you or I might find much of what they do unnecessary, the people making the publishers the money still do not, and that is big name authors and the majority of readers.

      That could change. It could change quickly. Konrath has been saying for a couple years that it will change. He may be right. But that’s the only thing to look for. If the sales numbers don’t keep increasing as much relative to paper, or if multiple top 10 NYT bestellers walk, then they’re in trouble. The rest of the speculation about what they can and should do is irrelevant in the face of those two variables.

  12. Linton RobinsonLinton Robinson

    This is “rear view” of the situation. “They’ll be OK if things go on like they used to.”
    They won’t. And aren’t.
    And as they continue to drop print books and ebooks become the standard, it will happen more and more.

    It’s not all about the older, established authors. There are new authors, remember?

    Switching to windshield view tends to give a different slant on this whole thing.

    Just as viewing from perspective other than “these are OUR jobs in peril here” makes for a different conclusion.

    As Rowling has done, the real sales monsters could start doing their own thing at any time. In many ways, they are the most valid candidates for jumping off.

    BTW, anecdotally, of the writers I know who are making decent livings from published books, about half are either letting contracts lapse or heavily considering it, while putting out books on their own.

  13. Richard Hartzell

    There’s another, more weirdly compelling way of looking at this battle of publishers vs. self-publishers: it’s ebooks vs. physical books. As I understand it the physical book market is still about 70% of the pie, but from what I’ve read the self-publishing community isn’t interested in it — these authors think physical books (and the location-based bookstores that sell them) are obsolete and doomed, so they don’t bother considering them.

    And, frankly, I don’t think it’s just the chain bookstores that propel them to this verdict; they associate physical books with legacy publishing (i.e., groveling for an agent, collecting rejection slips from East Coast snobs masquerading as editors) so closely they’re just as inclined to dismiss indie bookstores.

    *That’s* what I think is significant about this confrontation. Even a year ago it never occurred to me that publishing and distributing physical books would be the subject of such contempt from aspiring writers. (If you don’t believe me, hang out at http://www.thepassivevoice.com blog for a week or two and see.) And the other side of the coin are genre ebook *readers* who’ve been radicalized by Amazon’s no-ebook-over-$9.99 legacy to sneer at any publisher who dares to charge more. They’re convinced — and not without reason — that the Big Six and their ilk use higher ebook pricing to subsidize dwindling hardcover and paperback book sales.

    Strangely enough, it almost doesn’t matter whether Hachette’s defense of its value-add to publishing is true or not. So many readers and writers have become ebook militants they consider it a form of heresy to recognize the validity of the old-school publishing model.

    Like John Reed in *Ten Days That Shook the World*, they’ve seen the future and it works.

  14. Kelly

    While self-published authors and agency publishers get 70% from Amazon, most other publishers operate on a wholesale model at Amazon and other ebook retailers. (Just like physical books, that’s in the 50% range.) Don’t assume that retailers are giving 70% back; only Apple guarantees that percentage to everyone.

    1. Edward G. Talbot

      Although I completely agree that we don’t know the percentages that the Big 6 get, you’re wrong that they have a wholesale model for ebooks at Amazon. The fact that they have an agency model with Amazon is heavily publicized by both the publishers and Amazon – you’ll see the “Publisher sets the price” sign next to many Big 6 books, especially ones over $9.99.

      I can’t speak for smaller publishers, but given that both large publishers and indies have the agency model at Amazon for ebooks, I’d bet that most smaller publishers do as well. As for other retailers, if the Big 6 have an agency model with Amazon for ebooks, they have to have it with everyone else. If they didn’t, as soon as another retailer dropped the price, Amazon would match and it would defeat what publishers are trying to achieve.

      1. Edward G. Talbot

        Edit – I believe I misread the intent of the comment I was referring to – you’re talking about neither the Big 6, nor indies. I know a few small publishers who just use KDP and the agency model, but you may be right that Amazon and other retailers have maintained a wholesale model for smaller publishers.

  15. Legacy Author

    Thanks for sending me this very amusing memo. Somehow, I didn’t quite connect with the corporate voice. I found the arguments in the memo lacked substance and were not as compelling as some of the other memos we’ve seen. The platform of the writer, while once truly impressive, seems to be creaking and that comes through in the writing. As a rule, we don’t adopt memos that are not current anyway. I just didn’t feel as enthusiastic about this memo as I would need to to commit the formidable talent resources it would require in today’s competitive literary marketplace. It’s hard to single out any of the chapters, since they all did make me laugh so hard, but the promises of proper distribution, marketing, and author support were truly hilarious. Perhaps the writer might find more success with my colleagues in the satire genre, as I myself am in the non-fiction business which is clearly the wrong category for this submission.

    Kind regards,

    Today’s Writer
    (AKA “Content Provider,” “‘Annoying but Necessary Evil’ in Eyes of Traditional Publishers”)

  16. Richard Hartzell

    Mr. Talbot —

    Kelly is correct on this one. Only the Big Six use the agency model for their ebook sales with Amazon. Every other publisher is, as I understand it, *required* to continue to sell their ebooks to Amazon wholesale, or at roughly 50% off the list price. The wholesale model permits Amazon to set the price for an ebook or physical book as it sees fit — and to change it whenever it wishes. The agency model means the retailer, whether it’s Amazon or B&N or Apple or Kobo, is merely the sales agent for the publisher and is being paid 30% of the publisher’s list price as a commission. Only the publisher can set the price, and that price must apply uniformly at every sales outlet — a requirement that obviously gives Amazon no competitive flexibility or advantage over other online ebook retailers. Amazon only tolerates it because the Big Six have the frontlist and backlist muscle to enforce the agency model.

  17. JPK

    This obvious act of self reassurance by Hachette is equivalent to the captain of the Titanic yelling, \Here, try this! This pail should do the trick!\

    I like \We ensure widest possible audience.\ In today’s landscape, that statement is laughable.

  18. Kristi

    I’m still trying to figured out after reading that rambling mess what it is publishers offer that an independent author cannot do on their own:

    Curating — Let the readers pick what’s good and what’s not. They do that whether the book comes out from a Big 6 or an indie anyway.

    Editing/Proofreading – just hire one of the many editors that were laid off from the Big 6 publishers or one of the agents who have now had to shutter their doors – done

    Formatting – Tons of services that will do it for you for less than $50. Liberwriter.com anyone?

    Book Cover – Just hire one of the cover artists that were laid off

    Funding authors – Really? You mean the dwindling advances? I’d rather front a few hundred bucks and take the risk myself to hire my own editor, book cover and formatter.

    Distribution – You mean in the crumbling bookstores that are closing every day? 10 years from now kids won’t even know what a bookstore is. Libraries? You can pitch them yourself and they’ll put your books in their system. It’s not that hard. I’ve done it several times before. And getting in local bookstores are super easy too. But do you really want to? eBooks will make up 50% of the market in 2 years or less so I can do that myself through Kindle, Nook, or Smashwords. Takes less than 15 minutes to upload on all of them.

    PR & Marketing – \Hello? Hello? Is anyone home … home … home …?\ No one in in-house publicity pays attention to you after the first two weeks of release anyway. So let’s get real. 99% of so-called in-house marketing is social media marketing which authors with the right training can just do themselves (and they have to do it themselves anyway). Media, connections? Please. Publicists just blast out a press release and don’t even follow up. They don’t even take 30-seconds personalize their pitches. I know cause I work as journalist as well and I see the horrible Xerox press releases from the houses. When you do request an interview with an author, the publicists don’t even return your email or follow up. I’ll take my risk on HelpaReporterOut.com or ReporterConnection.com, thank you very much. It’s free. It’s publicity in a can and I stand just as much of a chance getting media as a publicist can (I know cause I’ve gotten several national publications from those outlets. No thanks to my in-house publicist)

    Need someone to follow up? That’s what interns are for and $2/hour virtual assistants.

    And then there’s literary agents — good ones are hard to find but bad ones are dime a dozen. Get a deal on your own after you’ve sold enough eBooks, publishers will come scrambling after you. Then you just hire a publishing attorney for a flat price, just a few hundred bucks. You can’t get an agent to return a call anyway and in today’s publishing environment, they can’t sell anything but YA, middle grade or celebrity books. (Reality stars anybody?)

    Big 6 must really feel desperate to have to justify their place in the publishing world if they need to write such a memo.

  19. Linton RobinsonLinton Robinson

    Well put, Kristi
    The whole idea of established, capitalized industrialists having to defend their legitimacy indicates that it’s coming down around their heads.

    Agents, of course, are only necessary in the old model–in the new, who do they agent to? They become a drag on the writer’s income and a screen that prevents the publisher from being able to “curate” (definitely the funniest/spupidest claim in the whole missive)
    And another wicked irony here–capitalists saying that the market is incapable of selecting its own products.

    1. Kristi

      I agree with you 100%, Linton. There is a place for agents though, but they’re going to have to change their business model. They’re going to have to be coaches (and charge by the hour) or create their own ePublishing comanies or act like Hollywood managers do, being able to double-dip and produce as well as manage (then reimburse the author for the percentage after they receive their producing fee). They’re going to have to become book packagers, they’re going to have to become brands of their own (like Smashwords is trying to do with with) so readers know that if Agent X represents an author then they’ve gotta be good. The smart agents are already adapting and becoming hybrids. The crusty old AAR-leaguers are holding fast to the ship as the Titanic sinks. Good luck on getting life boats when it finally crumbles and there’s only 3 Big 6’rs left, those agents would have already sailed away….

  20. Holly Brady

    It’s a stretch to say that traditional publishers are still cultivating emerging writers. The downturn in revenues has taken a devastating toll on that end of the business.

    Here’s a prediction: within three years, we’ll see the publishing industry split into two tiers. Bestselling authors will work with the Big Six traditional publishers. And new authors will have to prove themselves in the self-publishing arena before they’re allowed to play in the big leagues.

    1. Nancy Lauzon

      I agree, Holly. It’s nice that Hachette claims to ‘identify authors and books that are going to stand out in the marketplace’ and promises to ‘nurture writing talent and foster rich relationship with authors’. In a perfect world, that’s what all traditional publishers should do. But they haven’t done that for about a decade or more (i.e. the death of the midlist author is one example) and that’s why their ship is sinking.

  21. Yveta

    I read your post and went on Smashwords.com. But this company looks like another agency, only for e-books. I mean – all they do is format your content for e-readers. But anyone who wrirtes his/her book on a computer 🙂 can do it as well. It’s super easy to publish on each site Smashwords mentioned. All you have to do is set up your account and you’ll even get a virtual e-reader simulator on your screen to check your content on (making sure your formatting is correct, the screen does not cut off your pages, etc.). It takes a day or two max. to self-publish on all major e-book sellers and you’ll keep your 70% wired to your bank account (Amazon is especially good at that, each month – your remittance is there!). So, if Smashwords charges the extra 15% of the 70% they get from Amazon, Apple, B&N, etc…then they are your e-books agents).

    What I found most interesting, though, was the fact that 2 reputable traditional literary agencies published some of their clients through Smashwords. Can anyone explain that? Is this the new hybrid agency you’re talking about? It is interesting, its’s almost like the traditional literary agecyt realized they cannot sell the author’s book to the big 6, so they self-published via a self-publishing middle man to a bunch of self-publishing giants like Apple, Amazon, etc. Who knows what these authors ended up with – talking about taking one piece of the pie after another (agent 15%, Smashwords 15%, e-publisher 30%…everyone wants a piece of the virtual book). My advice – if all you care about is your work to be out there as an e-book, DO IT YOURSELF.

  22. Jack Barrow

    I’ve not read all 112 comments above mine so apologies if this has been said already.

    Do publishers honestly think that we self publish out of choice? It’s the near impossibility of getting anyone in mainstream publishing to even acknowledge our existence that drives us to self publish. Getting our work even seen is almost impossible in an industry that is neurotic to the point that it won’t take the remotest risk yet praises and laments every innovative publication from their competitors. Instead they publish the stuff trotted out by friends of friends and worse, the kids of media dynasties who tell us that they have to keep proving themselves because Daddy was in the media. Do you think the rest of us don’t have to do that?

    I recently had an interesting tweet conversation with a journalist who writes for the nationals. He’s not even a publishing industry insider, just a hanger on who has had a book or two published. However, he might have been a useful contact. I’d attracted his attention with some off the cuff comment about him reviewing me. He asked who my publisher was. I told him that I couldn’t give him a big name or any sort of recognition. Instead I reluctantly said that I was giving him the opportunity of discovering the next Douglas Adams. (It’s not a comparison that I came up with though I was chuffed to hear it.) His response was to say, \Sorry I’m not really your man. Good luck with it though.\ I kicked myself for not having a web site to send him to instead, and decided to have another drink.

    Thanks Jake!

    If even the people on the periphery of the industry won’t mix with the great unpublished then what chance do we have of getting noticed? If the publishing industry is worried about the rise of the self published author then you deserve everything you get. (Actually we’re all getting screwed by Amazon from both sides so they are the bad guys.) Of course publishers need to sort the wheat from chaff but in the process they’re building a wall around themselves. They’re creating a publishing ghetto where the talent is on the outside. Do they remember the seventies and the rise of the independent record label. Forget the MP3 revolution, that’s when it all went wrong for the record industry. Filled with their own self impotence they are cut off from the world and slush everything that doesn’t fit what they did last year.

    We don’t want to be self published. Granted if we can get noticed by the public we could make a go of it if we have to, but we really want all that added value described in points two, three and four. We need publishers but publishers need us more!


    1. Linton RobinsonLinton Robinson

      I don;t know about “we” but I self-published out of choice for decades, and still do. I know a lot of people who self-publish and make a good living at it, a couple like six figures a year. There was self-publishing a long time before there were Kindle and Lulu.

      I wouldn’t want those books with a publisher, and all of the dozens of other publishers I mention feel the same. Why get ripped off for 85% of the money?

      Speaking strictly of novels, it’s a different story. But I’m not at all unhappy to be working up towards a comfortable living on fiction alone, and know others who would say the same.

      Sure, it would be great to get the red-carpet, advance sales, TV appearance treatment that star writers get (including, by the way, self-publshed star writers like Hockeing and Godin and Locke, et al) but in point of fact, very few writers get that. It’s like saying, “We don’t choose to be playing minor league ball, we’d rather be MVP of the series and boinking Briteny Spears.”

      It doesn’t work like that. Most publisher house writers don’t make enough to pay their rent. And by “most”, I mean the vast majority, maybe like 85-90%. ALL the long-term self-publishers I know, do.

      This is retrograde thinking — wishing to be back in a wonderland that never really existed. Far better to look at the future, which should make good indie writers happy, and traditional publishers panicky.

  23. Bob

    One minor thing that amused/saddened me was point #3 has a HUGE typo (two combined words) at the beginning. So much for their superior editing skills. I am reading The Quest which is huge right now (and done by a major, traditional publisher) and found one proofreading mistake and two simple spellcheck mistakes so far. So what expertise are we paying them for??

  24. Anon2

    I totally agree with Anon. Publishing houses used to provide an author with what was, essentially, an
    MFA. No longer. Many agents do most of the editing, and you are just edited to get your book out there, not
    to build your career as a writer (from what I’ve seen). Also, lists have shrunk. I have friends who are writers
    who have written really good books that traditional publishers won’t publish because they think they
    won’t sell well enough, and then I see much more mediocre books published.

    Then it takes AT LEAST two years to get a book published. It’s absurd. The more I see of publishing and the lack
    of digital knowledge in the space, the more I understand why they are not making a profit like they used to.



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