Hugh Howey, author of WOOL, and Kristin Nelson, agent at Nelson Literary Agency, interviewed by Mike Shatzkin at Digital Book World in New York City. Click on the headline of this post to see live updates.
Steven Axelrod – if you start with very low eBook price, it hurts price of print later. Jane Dystel – when self-published author starts very low, it’s a problem if they go to a publisher and price jumps. But authors are starting lower and experimenting with price, because they can. I encourage publishers to try price promotions, because it sells books.
Laura Hazard Owens asks about pricing for self-published authors. Kristin Nelson: When authors release a new book in a series, they make the first book free or very discounted and that works very well for them. Steven Axelrod: Start at lower prices, moving up. Authors are being a lot more aggressive, at $4.99 for one. It’s easier when eBook price is higher to attract a print audience through a publisher.
Jay Mandel on enhanced eBooks: “It’s the next cutting-edge positive sales wave of our business.” Eventually people will be interested in the possibilities. On a cost basis, it hasn’t made any sense. You can’t take remarkable content and make it work with Flash and make the spreadsheet look reasonable. I think that’s about to change. Pay attention to Inkling, he urges. “Their CEO is the smartest people doing this.”
Kristin Nelson gives example of how changing the genre for an author’s book resulted in huge increase in sales. Publisher took a long time to make the change. They need to understand power of tweaking meta data.
Jane Dystel says her agency actively looks for good writers in self-publishing realm. They can live in all different kinds of formats. Steven Axelrod, having done the Amanda Hawking deal, gets hundreds of emails a month from authors wanting him to represent them. Kristin Nelson shows her net cred by using the word “ping.”
Jay Mandel: It’s still “a needle in the haystack” to find authors who can do well in self-publishing. His agency focuses on nonfiction and literary fiction. Short and middle-form nonfiction is going through a revolution. Literary fiction “is a very open question.” It’s more subject to infrastructure and reputation making of the literary world. Will be difficult for self-publication to work. The reputation has to precede the self-publication in literary fiction, he says.
Kristin Nelson on Shana Swendson, who didn’t want to self-publish. Her publisher dropped series. Nelson recommended self-publishing. Much Ado About Magic sold 3,000 copies first month.
Jay Mandel says authors go to self-publishing in order to “try something.” James Frey, for example, is an out of the box thinker. David Frum wanted to get his novel, Patriots, to market faster than publishers could do it, so he went self-publishing. Sometimes author finds they were getting more than they thought from a publishing house. Each situation is different.
Jane Dystel says short form work is difficult to sell to traditional publishers. Hybrid publishers know they can go back and forth. They experiment with the publishers. She sells foreign rights and movies.
Jane Dystel of NYC says her agency has added staff for self-publishing projects. Jay Mandel of NYC sees his agency as facilitators for aspirations of authors. Bringing backlist up to date is part of that. Their self-publishing person was acquired by a digital media company. Steven Alexrod has been helping clients self publish since 2010 but has decided it’s a conflict of interest to represent both sides of the operation, so is not taking on new clients. Kristin Nelson offers ability to support authors, where they don’t have to do it alone. Doesn’t see a conflict.
Laura Hazard Owen will take over moderation of the panel, with agents added in addition to Kristin Nelson. They are Steven Axelrod, Jay Mandel, and Jane Dystel. Laura asks what capabilities they have added to handle self-publishing.
Simon & Schuster offered the deal for a print-only deal. They took it.
WOOL books were the Kindle Daily Deal on 10/6/12. He sold more than 24,000 copies in 24 hours. Kristin Nelson took that opportunity to reach out to publishers again. Monthly sales had dropped down to 20,000 copies a month. This time, publishers were listening. One offered a print-only deal.
Hugh Howey walked away from the Kindle Select deal so his books would be available elsewhere. “I did it because of the hate mail,” he says. It’s tricky, he says, when authors have to choose less reach to make more money. This info puts Amazon in a bad light. Do they really get enough benefit of this to take this sort of a hit among the fans of an author like Hugh Howey?
Hugh Howey credits James Patterson and others for creating the impact of multiple titles giving boost to backlist. Readers download a book at 2 a.m., have it finished by noon and have posted a review asking for the next one. It’s a huge challenge to meet “this insatiable demand for books,” Howey says.
Big sticking points in negotiating with publishers – digital royalty rate, non-compete clause. In May, Kristin Nelson had all sales of WOOL, completely transparent with publishers with data. If you want to tempt him with a traditional deal it will have to be at least $2 million.
Kristin Nelson says publishing editors were beginning to hear about the book. “Suddenly editors were calling us.” She decided to have Hugh sit down with publishers, so they would see he was reasonable, not a “down with publishing sort of author.” She wanted them to see that. In May he was selling 30,000 to 40,000 copies of his ebooks a month, earning $150,000 a month. She hoped meeting Hugh would help change the publishing industry.
When you look on a top ten list and you see several titles by the same author, that helps, Hugh Howey says. He had a full-time job and was sleeping not so much.
Hugh Howey had fans in high places, like Boing Boing and Wired. Plus regular fans. In answer to Shatzkin’s question, how did this happen, Howey says he’d like to think it was the quality of the writing. But also the fans.
When agent Kristin Nelson approached author Hugh Howey to represent his work, he was earning $50,000 a month selling his books on his own. What could she add? It wasn’t immediately clear, Kristin says.