Breakout session: The Publishing Business for the Bewildered Writer

I did switch to this session by Bob Mayer after all, and I’m glad I did as it was very informative, even if I don’t have anything ready to publish right now.  At least it has made me more aware of what options are available.  There is a lot of information here under the cut, I have tried to group it as best I can!

Bob is a NY Times best selling author who was having issues with getting his back catalogue published / marketed.  I’m not sure of all the details of how it came about, but he eventually set up his own ePublishing company, Who Dares Wins Publishing.  I gather he has been systematically buying up his back catalogue as the rights became available again, as well as putting some of his new works through the company. He also has a blog called Write it Forward, ‘for those interested in writing, reading, publishing and the future of books’.

And so to the conference:

When it comes to books, the main focus has always been on publisher and reader, the writer was considered not important part of the process.

Bob is currently selling more of his Area 51 series in a day in ebook format than Barnes & Noble was able to sell in a year.

“I’m convinced fear is at the root of most bad writing” – Stephen King

Writers have been treated badly by the publishing industry for a long time, but this should not be the case:

  • Writers produce the product
  • Readers consume the product
  • Everyone else is in between
  • Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way


Publishing is changing exponentially (CC Humphries)

Biggest market expansion is in non-english speaking countries – it is worth spending the money to pay for good translations.

Audience is constantly expanding as they sell more devices.

Publishers / Bookstores etc were not ready for the digital world (despite what happened with music industry)

  • Most successful music acts are now independent
  • Big music companies only make money from touring
  •  Business model is badly outmoded

Focus was on distributing to consignment outlets

Agency pricing – lawsuit about this right now.  Publishers are determining price not marketplace.  Change will come when publishers finally accept when the ebook is the new mass market paperback.


  • Bob is outselling publishers in ebook format, but is not getting contract for new books
  • Why are they not approaching him?
  • Bob is approaching indy authors to be on his list, offering gross royalties that mean he will make no money, just to grow his list and bring in new markets

Social media

  • Unless you are a brand author, no marketing.  So you have to do it yourself anyway.


Worldwide rights

  • If Amazon is expending everywhere, who has your rights?
  • What rights are in your contract?



The Big 6 are:

  • Pearson (Penguin Putnam etc)
  • Bertelsmann (Random House etc)
  • Time Warner Book Group (owned by Hatchette Book Group)
  • Macmillan
  • Murdoch (HarperCollins etc)
  • Viacom (Simon & Schuster, Pocket, etc)
  • Does not include Harlequin (who sell as much, if not more books in total – possibly because they are a genre publisher), or Indy and small publishers

The power of Numbers

  • Your fate is to a large extent determined when the book is sold
  • The size of the advance, the editor who buys it where the book is slotted are critical – and out of your control
  • The format for the book is important
  • Hardcover  – reviewed, remaindered, expensive for new readers
  • Trade paperback – fastest growing segment
  • Mass market paperback – shrinking, especially for unknowns
  • Ebook – who will control the gateway?  Readers (probably)

Future of publishing

  • traditional publishing is technophobic
  • traditional publishing is static

Indie – small publishers

  • more adaptable to change
  • distribution? – same for ebooks (or even better if formatted better)
  • what are their royalty rates?
  •  Standard is 25% of net for royalty rates for ebooks, which is very low.  Trying to pay for their print books with e books
  • % of net?  Bob pays authors % of gross (does not penalise authors for his business costs)


  • Ellora’s Cave started it
  • Wild Rise, Samhain, Carina (Romance leading the way)
  • What services do they provide?
  • Smashwords numbers



  • Their role is changing.
  • Whyle was blacklisted by Random House when he announced he was publishing his author’s back list.
  • More and more agents are becoming packagers.
  • Advantages – do the work, foreign, audio.  But if you can do this yourself, do you need an agent?
  • Disadvantage – conflict of interest.



  • Came out of studio system in Hollywood
  • Are the filter around NY publishing
  • Help make a manuscript marketable
  • Find the right place and the right person
  • Negotiate contracts
  • Help get your money

Why use an agent?

  • To be published in NY
  • To help editorially
  • Contacts



  • Content is king
  • Promotion is queen
  • For a new author, focus on content

 Traditional authors

  • Midlist is getting slaughtered
  • 50% is now 80% sell through
  • Publishers not getting books out there, and claiming authors are failures for not making sales
  • Can’t market front list, let alone back list
  • Ebook royalty rate is pathetic

 Indie Author

  • Self publishing ebook
  • Print on demand model can work
  • People want physical book for non fiction
  • Can you truly SELF–PUBLISH?  No
  • Too many people are wasting too much time on one or two books
  • You do have more control, but also more work

New author self publishing

  • Do three books before focus on promoting
  • Build platform and brand
  • As hard ot success in self publishing as it is in traditional

Hybrid author

  • An author who has backlist.
  • Rereleased backlist, then new original titles.
  • Or traditional author who self-publishes shorts.
  • Readers rule.
  • Top selling indie / hybrid authors.


Not a good time to be a publisher, agent or a bookstore, but it is absolutely the best time to be a writer.

Bob uses google words to search on his name.  Checks blogs that mention his name and responds.  (Hi Bob, if you are reading this! 🙂 )


Key points to remember:

Educate yourself.

Ask for help.

Don’t be afraid.

The people who didn’t come to the convention are the ones who missed out on information.

Your thoughts and stuff

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