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Translating Hugh Howey: No Hugh, Self-Published Authors Don't Treat Readers Like Dirt. If You Do, That's Between You and Your Readers.

I'm Robert Stanek, a pro author since 1994 and an indie since 2001. Normally, I wouldn’t comment one way or another about Hugh Howey. We swim in different oceans and our paths rarely cross. In truth, I didn’t know the guy existed until he made several direct responses to me in online discussions I participated in last November/December.

Clearly, based on these posts, Hugh Howey wanted me to know he existed. The fact I didn’t have a clue who he was seemed to wound him deeply and a fisticuffs ensued with several of his online associates. I had no clue why Hugh Howey would care so much whether I knew who he was until I learned later he had been taking shots at me for quite a long time.

Over the past year, Hugh Howey seems to have been waging war against traditional publishing, a long string of a-list authors, and anyone who supports traditional publishing. To give you an idea of some of the things he’s been saying, here are his thoughts on David Streitfeld of the New York Times:

David Streitfeld of the New York Times has now cemented himself as the blabbering mouthpiece for the New York publishing cartel, and while he is making a fool of himself for those in the know, he is a dangerous man for the impression he makes on his unsuspecting readers.

Recently, I chanced upon a discussion in response to Hugh's blog post entitled, “Are Indies Treated Like Second Class Citizens?”. As you can see from the screen shot (at the end of this article), there’s some simple discussion and then Hugh Howey appears out of the blue saying:

How am I bashing Amazon? I'm guessing you just read the first line or two? Really asking.

The only bashing I see is from the usual suspects and aimed at me. Thinly veiled, of course.

Read the posts from the screen shot. If Hugh thinks he's being bashed somehow by that, he really needs to get out more or at the least learn how to take some simple criticism. 

Intrigued by his hubris, I decided to read “Are Indies Treated Like Second Class Citizens?” Knowing what I know about publishing from over 20 years in this business, I want to translate a few things Hugh says in the article.

Based on my read of the article, it seems Hugh Howey has recently learned that trad publishers not only get higher royalty rates than him but also get more money for borrows in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited than he does—and he wants to figure out how to get the same pay day. A few choice quotes:

[A KU author gets] $1.30-ish for a borrow. A $9.99 ebook borrowed from a trad publisher, meanwhile, will pay 70%, which comes to $6.99. It’s worth pointing out here that the trad-pubbed author of that ebook will only receive around $1.48 for that same borrow of a $9.99 ebook.

Hugh bases the $1.48 on a 21% royalty rate from the publisher. In actuality, the royalty rate paid for ebooks by trad publishers to their authors can be anywhere from 10% net to 25% net, so in the range of .70 to $1.75.

Hugh also states:

indies aren’t just treated like second class citizens by Amazon — self-published authors treat Amazon’s customers like second class citizens.

Um, speak for yourself, Hugh Howey. Most authors, whether self-published or traditionally published, don’t treat their readers (who are Amazon customers) poorly. If you do, then that’s between you and your readers.

Next, Hugh tries to figure out a plausible way to get more money for himself and authors like him. His words in bold italics. The translation of his words in normal type.

The same freedom to publish that has changed the lives of thousands of authors also brings a wild west where others take advantage and try to game every system in every way possible. A handful of rotten apples spoils the entire bunch. The only way to prevent this is heavy curation, which I certainly don’t want. I want freedom, but with freedom comes the need to curb abuses. The logical step (and many have argued for this, some with compassion, some out of spite) is a tiered system. Classes of treatment for publishers based on the class of treatment given to customers.

What Hugh's really saying: Authors like me who sell lots of books and have thousands of rave reviews should get paid more than authors who don’t. After all, in the class system I'm proposing, I'm in the top tier (and the rest of you aren’t.) Also, while we’re at it, let’s make sure there’s real incentive to take down any author who tries to climb the class ladder.

So you have a class of authors who make their deadlines and a class of authors on probation for not meeting their deadlines. You have a class of authors who get regular feedback from readers about typos and a class of authors who rarely get this feedback (or who act on it promptly when they do). You have authors whose ebooks are read in a few days and authors whose ebooks are read in a few weeks, a reflection, perhaps, on the quality of the customer experience but not on the quality of the work.

What Hugh's really saying: Sorry the rest of you authors are fuck ups. In the class system I'd like to build, you'll be at the bottom anyway and guys like me will be at the top. 

I think we should have the same opportunities... but I don’t think we have the right to expect the same outcomes. That’s where the classes start sorting themselves. Should authors who sell a lot of books get better treatment than authors just starting out?

What Hugh's really saying: My success isn't something you'll ever achieve and the class system I want to build will help ensure this by making sure none of you get paid anywhere close to what a guy like me gets paid. The class system has worked so well throughout history. Peasants should not mix with us nobles and royals. I've been an author for 5 years now. If you haven't, you shouldn't have any of the same rights as I do.

Of course, it will be impossible to prevent abuses by the untoward and impossible to agree on metrics of quality (an exercise that I abhor). But now we can ask again whether Amazon should pay indies — as a whole — the same way they pay trad publishers. ... do I think indies as a whole should get paid the same as trad publishers as a whole? I do not.

What Hugh's really saying: Indies as a whole don't deserve the same pay as someone like me. Authors like me who sell lots of books should get paid more than authors who don’t. Although I abhor having to be the one to determine metrics of quality, I will as it'll help ensure the class structure I want to build remains top light and bottom heavy. I want to control the class ladder to make sure it's impossible to climb to the same lofty heights as me.

The authors who respect Amazon’s customers by providing high quality reads with professional covers at a great price should be treated better than those who upload short error-riddled rough drafts at high prices. And the latter should be treated better than those who break Amazon’s TOS, like having KDP Select books available elsewhere. And this group should be treated better than those who break the law by uploading stolen material (or by profiting from open-source or crowd-sourced material).

What Hugh's really saying: You must overlook the fact that the rules don't apply to me. My books are in KDP Select and also available everywhere else. Further, even though I became a success by cutting my books into parts and selling them in as many pieces as I wanted, that's not something anyone else should be able to do. In a class system, guys like me will make the rules anyway and they'll only apply to the rest of you. Also, while we're at it, let's find ways to make sure that everyone recognizes that everything I produce is a flawless gem and that everything the rest of you produce is flawed crap.

I am biased. I think Amazon should tweak their KU payout system to make it more fair among us indies. 99 cent short stories and novels should pay the same 35 cents that they do on KDP. The payout should also come at higher than the 10% read range (maybe more like 50%). Works priced from $2.99 – $6.99 should pay $2.00 per borrow.

What Hugh's really saying: Take a look at the price of my books. Since my work is better and costs more, I should be getting $2 a borrow and the rest of you shouldn’t. Further more, no one should be able to price their books at .99 like I did. That approach to success is only reserved for people like me at the top of the class structure I'm building.

The fairest thing I can think of is escalators. Amazon’s self-publishing audio book program, ACX, used to employ earnings escalators. The payout rate might start at 40%, but it can go up to 90% with enough sales. This puts the job of rewarding customer experience where it belongs, and that’s with the customer. Keep them happy and coming back for more, and the payout goes up.

What Hugh's really saying: Authors like me should make more than everyone else. After all, in a class system, we’re the top tier (and the rest of you aren’t). Also, while we’re at it, as authors like me start to earn 90% royalties, it’s highly likely the payout for the rest of you will go down closer to 0%, but don’t worry about that. I’ll spend my millions wisely and I encourage you to help me fight for my pay raise. I earned it. I'm Hugh Howey.

I’d love to see that 70% payout creep up to 85% with enough titles sold. Maybe 1,000 sales moves the peg up to 71%. 5,000 sales gets you 72%. Perhaps reaching 85% requires selling ten million ebooks (something no single self-published author has yet done on Amazon). I don’t dream of ever reaching that sort of level, but I would applaud those who do for being rewarded for it.

What Hugh's really saying: I’m on track to get to 10 million sold in a few years. Authors like me who sell lots of books and have thousands of rave reviews should get paid more than authors who don’t. After all, in a class system, we’re the top tier (and the rest of you aren’t). Also, truth be told, no one is going to get a raise after 1,000 sales or even after 5,000 sales, but those of us with 1,000,000 or more sales will. When we do, it’s highly likely the payout for the rest of you will go down considerably, but don’t worry about that. We’ll spend our millions wisely, so keep fighting for our pay raises.

As I said in the original post, it is cosmically unfair for all KDP users to be lumped together. That’s the conundrum. I don’t see an easy answer to any of this, just more problems.

What Hugh's really saying: I really hate the fact that I get paid the same royalty rate as everyone else. It’s not enough that I get perks and privileges the rest of you don’t, like having my books in KDP Select while they’re also on sale everywhere else. I’m supposed to be paid more than everyone else. I’m Hugh Howey. It's cosmically unfair that I don't get 90% royalties.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek


Translating JA Konrath Translating John Sargent: Are Subscription Models Bad For Authors?

I'm Robert Stanek, a successful indie author since 2001 and a successful pro author since 1994. Joe Konrath is quite outspoken about his dislike and disdain for traditional publishing. Some would even say Joe is quite angry. I don't blame Joe for his anger considering he labored for many years as a traditionally published author, barely making a living, until he went indie and finally found true success. In past blog posts, Joe has angrily tore apart trad published authors like James Patterson and others, including the Authors Guild, for their defense of traditional publishing. (For the record, this is not meant as a dis on Joe.)

Personally, I think Joe should be more angry about the broken state of publishing and many of the things I've been blogging about right here: runaway ugliness in publishing; Amazon's broken system; Amazon's unfair business practices; etc.

There is no doubt Joe's an unfettered champion of Amazon, but Joe has much to learn about the heartless, soulless company in Seattle that puts smiley faces on its boxes while working to destroy everything we love about books and reading. If Joe really thinks any executive at Amazon gives a damn about his loyalty, my advice is this: wait a few years and see how they repay your loyalty when you're not making $1 million a year.

I became a pro author the same year Amazon became a company: 1994. I was one of the guy's who put Amazon on the map. My bestselling books, widely read articles, and highly popular websites all told readers about Amazon. I brought millions of new customers to Amazon's doorstep. My reward for years of steadfast loyalty? A handful of shit from a company that could care less about years of loyalty or the millions brought to their doors. And when they use you up, Joe, and shit you out on the pavement, there'll be a thousand guys in line to take your place who all will also think their loyalty means something.

Recently Joe's war against traditional publishing has taken him in new directions. He posted a tirade as a  response to Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s open letter to authors regarding tactics the company is taking to preserve market share in these difficult times for publishing (and books in general). Personally, I think John should have posted such a letter on Macmillan's site and not a blog, but that's neither here nor there as I'm sure the letter went out in printed letters, email, etc as well.

As my books have been published by Macmillan, Random House, Pearson, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, etc, John's words were of particular interest. One of the biggest takeaways from the letter is that Amazon sells 64% of Macmillan's ebooks (meaning all other markets represent only 36%). I was not surprised to learn Macmillan was going to begin trials of subscription-based services. I had just done the same in September/October with my ebooks and audio books going into several subscription services.

I was surprised that Joe, whose books are all in Amazon's subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, was suddenly telling Macmillan authors that they should be screaming their heads off about Macmillan's potential use of subscription services. Is not what's good for the goose, good for the gander?

If subscription services devalue authors' works and are bad, why are 100% of Joe's works in Amazon's subscription service? Also, with current payouts for Kindle Unlimited not being far off from what Joe earns in KDP Select, isn't KDP Select devaluing his work and bad as well? As far as I know, Joe has been fine with the ~$1.70 payout of KDP Select, making north of $1 million from borrows, so what makes the ~$1.50 payout of Kindle Unlimited any different?

Joe's questions for John Sargent on behalf of Macmillan authors. My responses in normal type.

1. Can I opt out of this new subscription idea?

Likely, many/most authors are excited about these opportunities, especially with dwindling sales for most, increasing competition and decreasing market relevance. Recently, another publisher (Pearson/Microsoft) did allow me to opt out no questions asked from a new plan I didn't like.

2. My books aren't available in print anymore, or the print sales are minuscule. Can you give me my rights back?

Regarding reversions of rights, there's not a whole hell of a lot authors can do. Joe was fortunate to get his rights back from Macmillan. Many others won't be as fortunate. 

Macmillan made a huge amount of money from my books, north of $50 million, give or take. In the early days when I was writing for Macmillan, I worked hard to make my contracts more fair and balanced, but rights were something they held fast to. A lucky few might get back their rights, but may have to wait a decade or two until Macmillan believes the rights no longer have any value.

There are worse things than publishers holding onto rights. Ever heard of the Creative Commons? The Creative Commons basically is a set of rules for putting an author's work in public domain before copyright expires. In plain language, Creative Commons makes the work freely available to all.

In and of itself, Creative Commons is not a bad thing and was in fact created with the best of intentions. However, some publishers have turned those good intentions to their favor. As an example, O'Reilly Media's standard contract puts an author's work into Creative Commons automatically when it goes out of print or sells fewer than X copies a year (and then also grants O'Reilly Media a perpetual grant to use the work for free). 

For many O'Reilly Media authors this has meant that in 2 - 5 years after publication, their hard work is suddenly in the public domain and O'Reilly Media is free to start using it however they want in perpetuity. Now that's something to be outraged about.

Questions 3 - 17 are all pretty much the same: Why a subscription service? What does this mean to me when you went to war with Amazon over prices?

The fight with Amazon wasn't about price at all. It was about who gets what share of the royalties. See Selling Your Soul to the Company Store.

Joe's further comments in bold italics. My comments in normal type.

Macmillan supporting Oyster and withdrawing titles from Amazon is going against what the majority of the world is doing. That isn't kicking Amazon in the nuts. That's throwing away potential money, and pretty stupid. At this moment in time, competing with Amazon isn't wise. Look for markets Amazon doesn't care about.  Throwing support behind one of Amazon's competitors--when Amazon has the same program--is like starting a fire by burning piles of cash. Yeah, you get heat, but at what cost?

Um, earlier, you said this:

I'm unclear: are you only pursuing this subscription model with Amazon's competitors? Or are you going to also enroll my ebooks in Kindle Unlimited? If so, doesn't that negate everything you've done previously? If not, and you put my ebooks into Scribd or Oyster or wherever, will my ebooks still be sold on Amazon? Or will you pull them from Amazon?

I think a test of the subscription model will be exactly that. A test to determine viability. Likely, Macmillan will use Oyster and possibly Scribd as well for this test. Further, John states exactly this: We plan to try subscription with backlist books, and mostly with titles that are not well represented at bricks and mortar retail stores.

And can someone answer how any author, other than a big bestseller, would ever sign with Macmillan knowing their books are going into a subscription plan?

One could ask the same of any author who has considered or used subscription plans. Joe, you currently do this, and you also use KDP Select for all of your titles. As far as I know, the ~$1.70 payout of KDP Select and the ~$1.50 payout of Kindle Unlimited aren't much different.

The reason most writers sign legacy deals, other than getting an advance, is legacy's ability to get paper books onto retail shelves.

Strongly disagree. The reason most writers sign legacy deals is because of the worldwide reach of traditional publishers coupled with the belief that there is more potential for sales success. I'm not saying this is true any longer, but it is a long-held perception.

Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek


Avast Ye Matey: What to Do if Your eBook is Pirated

Lots of talk about piracy these days and much discussion about whether it's worth the effort to try to take down pirate copies or whether it's simply a whack-a-mole undertaking. IMHO, I think the answer as to whether trying to reduce or eliminate piracy of your work is worth the effort depends on the author and his/her body of work.

For an author starting out or with only a relative few books to his or her credit, piracy likely will not cause harm and may actually be a net benefit. Yes, you read that correctly: a net benefit. Some authors spend a considerable amount of time, money and resources giving away free copies of their books and a limited amount of piracy could be seen as one way to get free copies of a book into the marketplace.

For other authors, such as those with many works or some modicum of success, some piracy is part and parcel with being an author. However, too much piracy can derail success.

I've been a professionally published author since 1995 and have over 150 books to my credit (William Stanek for technical works, William Robert Stanek for learning books and compilations, and Robert Stanek for everything else I write). My books have generated well over $100 million in sales at retail. Or put another way over 7.5 million people have purchased my works, $59.99 at retail x 2 million = ~$120 million and the other 5.5 million+ sales at other price points were gravy.

I've been researching the impact of piracy on sales of my books for many years. Part of this research has been tracking the number of illegal downloads, which runs into millions of copies, and the sites where these downloads are/were available. Many of my most valuable properties were made available for illegal downloading, including audiobook and book products that retailed for $29.99 to $59.99. The total value at retail of the stolen: $100 million+.

I have no illusions that my sales would have been twice what they were if my work hadn't been illegally downloaded by the millions. I do, however, believe a considerable portion would have. The exact portion is unknowable, but even if only 10% that's tens of millions of dollars in sales.

How many content creators have been impacted similarly? My thoughts are that thousands have been. Maybe not as considerably as myself, but certainly collectively this pirating represents billions of lost sales annually.

For authors concerned about piracy, there are an increasing number of tools. You can try sending a DMCA Takedown notice to the site owner, such as the following:

VIA Email at [[ISPHosting[at]]]
Re: Copyright Claim
To [[ISP Hosting Company Where Your Work Is Being Infringed]]:
  I am the copyright owner of [[BOOK] in contract with [PUBLISHER]] being infringed at:
 [[http://www <list the exact link or links to where the infringement is taking place>]]
 This letter is official notification under the provisions of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") to effect removal of the above-reported infringements. I request that you immediately issue a cancellation message as specified in RFC 1036 for the specified postings and prevent the infringer, who is identified by its Web address, from posting the infringing photographs to your servers in the future. Please be advised that law requires you, as a service provider, to "expeditiously remove or disable access to" the infringing book downloads upon receiving this notice. Noncompliance may result in a loss of immunity for liability under the DMCA.
 I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of here is not authorized by me, the copyright holder, or the law. The information provided here is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I swear under penalty of perjury that I am the copyright holder. Please send me at the address noted below a prompt response indicating the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.
 [[Your Name]]
 [[Your Email]]
 [[Publisher and Publisher email <if you have a publisher> ]]

Several services also have been started recently to help authors fight piracy. One of those services is offers a free trial period and then acts as a paid monthly service.

I've tested out the Muso service for some time to see how it worked and whether it was useful to me. For me, the free trial was the most useful aspect of the service as it quickly identified all the locations where my books were being pirated (as opposed to me manually performing searches of all my titles, variations of title names, my name, variations of my name, etc).

If you use the monthly service, you can have them send out takedown notices for you. Once you have these locations, you also can send your own DMCA Takedown Notices where there were instances of actual piracy. However, you still need to check each location. For example, about 1/3 of the sites identified weren't actually pirating my work and about 1/3 weren't actually full pirate copies of my work--they were simply samples. For those remaining that were actually pirated copies, I could have specified that I wanted the service to send automated take down notices.

You also can set up Google Alerts for your books and your name to help you track where your books are appearing online. Notifications from Google Alerts will include information about all locations the tracked books appear, including those that are legitimate and those that are illegitimate. Because of this, you'll need to go through and identify which are legitimate and which are illegitimate. Once you've done that you can issue takedown notices as appropriate.

Hope this information helps you,

Robert Stanek


Oh the Choices! Choosing Between Ingram Sparks, Create Space & Nook Press

For authors, there are many choices for printing your own books, including Ingram Sparks and Create Space. Also, Barnes & Noble just announced a print-on-demand service. However, there's not a whole lot here yet. My guess is Barnes & Noble is testing the waters to see if the service is viable.

For Nook Press, looks to me like there's a starter set of options for standard B&W and color:
5" x 8"
5.5" x 8.5"
7.5" x 9.25"
7" x 10"
8" x 10"
8.5" x 8.5"

With B&W, you have the book printed on 50# white or 55# crème paper. With full-color, you can have the book printed on 70# white paper.
Since Nook Press allows you to print without even having an ISBN and it's only for printing and sending books to you, this service is best for hobbyists, who want to:

A) Print up their own copies of a particular book as gifts
B) or Sell books from home.

I've use both Ingram and Create Space since they started operations years ago. Both are good options for self-publishers.
Here's my .02 and hope you find it useful:

Ingram Sparks is part of Ingram Digital, which also has Lightning Source Inc. Ingram Digital / LSI have invested heavily in printing machines and continue to update their machines. When it comes to full-color, they have premium and non-premium options as well with the premium being of exceptional quality. Their investment in machinery has always put them ahead of Create Space in terms of overall quality, but Create Space is working hard to catch up.
The relative quality and thickness of paper depends on the type of paper. Generally, for non-color, I believe Ingram Sparks uses #50 paper stock with both white and crème, while Create Space uses #50 white and 60# crème. Either way, the quality of paper stock is comparable.

Overall quality of the resulting product, also depends on how well the binding is glued, how the cover is fitted and more. Here, in my opinion, Ingram Sparks has always beat Create Space when it comes to overall quality, but again Create Space is catching up.
For me, the choice on whether to use Ingram or Create Space depends on the sales potential of the book.

With books where you expect low sales, you'll find Create Space can't be beat. Create Space has no setup costs and no annual fees for distribution. This makes it a low-cost choice. Create Space also gives you options for a free ISBN (for that specific print edition), $10 for a custom ISBN or using your own ISBN. Create Space staff is exceptional and you have many expanded distribution options that will get your books not only into online retailers but libraries and international markets as well.

With books where you expect better and continuing sales or want to do print runs of 20, 50 or 100 copies, you're better off using Ingram. With Ingram, you have to pay setup costs and annual fees for distribution. This is offset by the generally lower cost per printing (particularly with expanded distribution options). If you do print runs, you often can get discounts depending on the size of the print run, such as 10%, 20%, or even 30%.
Ingram staff also is fantastic to work with.

Both good Create Space and Ingram Sparks are good choices -- and better choices than Nook's service for self-publishers.
Thanks for reading,

Robert Stanek