Saturday, 23 February 2013

GUEST BLOG: Matt Hilton

Your life in their hands…

A recent comment I made on Facebook raised some debate about the practices followed by the bookshops and publishing industry in general, and Tony Black asked me if I’d write something about it as a guest blog. So, here for your consideration is just a few points I’ve plucked from the discussion. I haven’t an answer to the dilemma that mid-list authors face these days, and am somewhat still befuddled by it all. Likely individuals will have a different take on the subject than I do. But that’s fine. I’m not saying I’m right, only saying what I’ve been witness to.
     For those of you who don’t know me or my writing, I’m Matt Hilton and I’m the author of the Joe Hunter thriller series. In the UK, I’m eight books into the series, and the USA will see publication of books 5 and 6 this year. My first book – Dead Men’s Dust - only missed being a Sunday Times bestseller by a measly 24 copies, and the book was nominated as the Best New Thriller 0f 2009 by ITW (International Thriller Writers). From that statement you’d imagine that I’m thoroughly established as an author and that my books are readily available. To some extent you’d be correct, but maybe you’d be surprised to learn that my books are no way near as well established as you’d think. Like many other mid-list authors I’m fighting a losing battle to get my books onto physical bookshelves these days, and instead of seeing the numbers of my books growing in availability I’m finding that fewer bookshops now carry them than when I was a newbie on the scene a few years ago.
    There’s no single specific reason why this has happened, but you can count in the fact that there are fewer bookshops on the high street these days, that many of the supermarkets have cut back on the number of lines they once carried, and that many readers are now turning to Amazon to feed their reading habits. But then you have to also look at the way that the chain bookshops have largely turned their backs on supporting the mid-list authors and simply stacking tables with the ‘big names’, the ‘latest fad’ or questionable ‘biographies’ allegedly penned by questionable ‘celebrities’.  Even if/when a chain carries books, you’re lucky if they carry a single copy which, when sold, isn’t reordered, so the chance of selling in quantities is now a thing of the past.
    I’ve observed shoddy practice at a sales floor level. I once went into a Waterstones store in Birmingham – after travelling hours and hundreds of miles - to sign copy for them. The sales assistant gave me a blank look and then said, ”Oh, we forgot to order them in.” Another time I went in a Scottish Waterstones store to sign stock and introduced myself. The manager said, “Never heard of you, mate.” I then explained my book was (at that time) in their company top ten best sellers, to which he replied, “Oh, they have a different chart in England.” He then ignored me and walked away. On another occasion I went into a WHSmith store to sign stock (a few weeks after the book came out) and discovered that not only were the books on a pallet in the warehouse they were being sent back having never been put out on sale. Most authors will have similar tales to tell, and although such practices are harmful they do tend only to be at a local level, and not massively destructive to a career. But then larger problems persist.
    I’ve just spent the last six months or so promoting and growing anticipation for the release of my latest book. Rules of Honour – Joe Hunter 8 – was published on 14th February, to glowing reviews and plaudits including this one from a daily newspaper: “Matt Hilton delivers a house-burning, body-slamming car crash of violence. Give it a go, you won’t regret it’ **** The Sun on RULES OF HONOUR”. In excitable fashion I was telling all my readers ‘The book’s now available!”, only to receive replies from readers in the fashion of “Matt, it’s not in my local shop.” I then encouraged them that they should go in to the shop and order a copy. Only for the reply from the shop to be along the lines of: “Sorry, but our distributor isn’t carrying any copies and there’s no date available for when the book will be in stock.” Was I gutted to learn this? Not half! Thinking that there was a distribution problem from my publisher’s end I contacted them and was told some disturbing news. There was no problem from the publisher’s end just that neither WHSmith nor Waterstones had made any advance orders on the book. Doubly-gutted. When enquiring why, I heard some equally disturbing replies. Waterstones have almost completely withdrawn from selecting full priced mass-market hardbacks, and offer very few central promotions, so it is down to individual buyers in each shop to decide on the books they carry.  (In other words they’ll stick to the established big sellers, thank you very much). Although individual stores can take orders, the book isn’t carried in their distribution hub, so therefore it is difficult to source. (In other words, it’s too much trouble to bother, thank you very much).  WHSmith do have a central buying mechanism, but have also scaled back their orders on anything other than the ‘biggest brand names’. Having only taken 230 copies of my previous hardback (and not reordering when those sold out), they said I didn’t sell enough of the previous book and declined to stock Rules Of Honour.
    So in other words, their lack of support last time meant that they pulled all support this time. Good of them.
    Of course I’m not alone in this. This is harming hundreds of other authors who are trying very hard to establish themselves. And this is my reason for having this rant. Surely all those authors deserve a fair bite at the cherry, and their careers should not be ruined by poor practices? But the sad truth is…they are being ruined.
    Here’s a model pointed out to me by a fellow author (who will remain anonymous for the purpose of this blog entry), and how the system worked against him: “Say the average Waterstones ordered 10 copies of book 1 in my new series when it comes out and make a nice display, they sell 7, well I'd normally be chuffed, but it means when book 2 comes out they only order 7 as they won't order more than they sold last time, but with 7 it's not enough for the nice display, so they don't sell seven, they sell 5, but that still means it gets a face out on the shelf. When they order book 3, they only order 5... half the initial buy, and if that only sells 3, book 4 won't even get a face out, diminishing the chances even further of selling...” 
You can guess what comes next. “Due to poor sales we won’t be carrying that author’s books any more.”
    The same author also told me this story: “This happened to (his book), which I think is the best novel I've ever written. It was released exactly as Waterstones put a moratorium on new buys so month of release it was almost impossible to find anywhere except for places like Forbidden Planet and indie booksellers. Then when Penguin released (his next book) I got ZERO bookstore distro through Waterstones and Smiths because 'my last book didn't sell' which was the one they didn't stock because of their bloody lock-down on buying as they were going bust. The reality for me is, when I turn the new novel in to the agent in a couple of months, I'm looking at a pseudonym and hoping a second bite at the cherry works as they've completely screwed up any high street value I had.” He went on to say: “Frankly mate, it's heartbreaking and exhausting. I've seen myself go from #2 on Amazon to unfindable in about 26 months... I spent the best part of 20 years building up a reputation for working hard, delivering on time, hitting a level of quality and reliability with editors... and my first bloody book with Penguin didn't even get STOCKED. What am I supposed to do? I have no answers. So really, it's like saying the last 20 years don't count, I've got to start again from scratch. When the new novel goes out basically no one will know it's me…”
    I can sympathise with the author in question. Although I haven’t been harmed as much as he has, I wonder what the future holds. When my last paperback book came out, one of the supermarkets blatantly admitted ‘We won’t be taking any Matt Hilton this time as we’ve no room on the shelves. We’re concentrating on stocking “50 Shades of Grey” and its derivatives and have no space for the other books we’d normally carry.’ Oh, that’s OK then.  So when the next paperback comes out, I can expect your full support? Or will it be a case of ‘Sorry but your last book didn’t sell enough copies so we won’t be carrying this one.’
    Another author I’ve spoken with related a shocking story. Sadly it wasn’t the shops that ruined him, but the very people he relied on to establish him as an author. He told me that his first book came out on both sides of the Atlantic published by a major publishing house. It did well in sales and was even number 1 in the German paperback charts. When his second novel came out, his publisher messed up, and distribution barely occurred. Because book 2 didn’t sell, they decided not to publish his third book and pulled his contract. No fault of his, but his career went down the Swanny. Fighting back, said author then released a book through self-publishing means and it was a medium hit. It gained him enough notice that he was picked up by another agent who sold his next series to a major publisher in the USA for a substantial advance fee. Because the US bought publication rights, then so did Canada, and on the back of it the UK also took the series. Then the initial US editor left the company, and in what almost sounds like a fit of spite the publisher cancelled all the deals on books commissioned by that editor. But that wasn’t the end of it. Because the US was no longer publishing his books, the Canadian publisher decided they wouldn’t bother either, and, yes, the UK publisher soon made the same decision. This author had done absolutely nothing wrong, but was dumped on from a very great height. Bad enough luck for anyone to contend with, except now his name is dirt in the publishing world and nobody will touch him. I reiterate: this author did absolutely nothing wrong, it was bad decisions and bad practices that killed his career and he is now right back to the drawing board to try to resurrect his writing and his name. And there’s yet more woe to add to the heap. Because his agent felt totally deflated, the author was dropped and began to seek new representation. Guess what the agents checked to see if he was viable? His sales record. Because his sales were poor, they declined. So, a guy who had not only won one major contract, but two, who did absolutely nothing except deliver terrific books readers would have read given the opportunity was all but finished. I haven’t spoken to him in a few months now, and can only hope that his talent and viability as an author has now been recognised and he has a happier story to tell.
    Some people have bemoaned the decline of the bookshops, saying things like “No wonder people now order their books online.” So are platforms like Amazon the future for mid-list authors? In my opinion, no. When I look on Amazon they are actively promoting the exact same books as the chains do. All promo material on site are for the select ‘big names’ or ‘latest fad’ or ‘celebrity biographies’ we see stacked on the bookshop tables. The chances of anyone browsing and coming across a little known author’s book are minimal. To me authors need the exposure to casual browsers through physical bookshops more than ever.
    Now, it sounds I’ve a downer on Waterstones. I haven’t. My local store is very supportive and go out of their way to push my books, and I’m very thankful of their support. They’ve seen that my books do sell in decent numbers given the exposure. Recently they even tied in to the popularity of one author, one of those ‘big names’, whose character had just appeared in a major movie starring a diminutive Hollywood superstar, by placing a shelf full of my books next to his, with the tag “if you like…then you’ll love…” My books sold in high enough numbers that their reordering system kicked in and began ordering five copies of each of my backlist. If only such practices were shared with other stores in the chain I’d be laughing, but alas they aren’t. I’m still struggling to get noticed alongside hundreds of others in the same position trying to do the same. Earlier today, a reader reported to me: “I kid you not, I asked about ROH in Waterstones Crawley and they had nothing on their system about you or the book ????? ( computer says no) Will have a look in Tesco tomorrow or will order it.”
    So there you are. I’m an internationally widely published author with eight books and a number of short collections under my belt, and I’m ‘unfindable’ on their system. What hope for others?
    Like I said at the beginning of this tirade, I’m not the only author in this position, and neither do I have a ready answer to save us all from disappearing from the shelves. I’m playing devil’s advocate somewhat, because I’m still a staunch supporter of bookshops, both the chains and the indies, and of libraries, and this isn’t a dig at them per se, just the tangle of practices we’re all held prisoner to. If you disagree with me, then fair enough, you’ll get no argument. This is only the way I see it and don’t claim to be right. Our careers – if not our lives – are in their hands, so I think we’ve a right to moan when we don’t feel we’re given equal opportunities to survive.
    All that’s left for me to say is: Rules of Honour by Matt Hilton is now available…
…but you might have to ask for it to be ordered, then explain who I am when receiving a blank look.

:: Visit Matt's website


  1. Many times I have tried to order books from various mid authors from Waterstones and Asda, and had know luck.
    One time I ordered a Matt Hilton Hardback online from Asda and waited 2 weeks with not even a reply from them, I would have thought if it was on their website to order then they would have it in stock, I was wrong. It seems to me that what Matt writes here in this blog is what is going on behind the scenes, and I find it disgusting behaviour and that to them and most Waterstones it`s all about the money.How on earth are authors supposed to get out there? If it was not for Amazon and FB I would never have discovered Matt Hilton and many others, who I enjoy reading. There has to be something done about it, but I can`t think what.I know one thing though I myself will ALWAYS continue to search for relatively unknown authors because I enjoy reading them more than te top dogs.

  2. An incredibly sobering read Matt.

  3. Thanks for sharing your first-hand knowledge on the issue, Matt.
    It's depressing. When mid-list authors have these struggles, it's not surprising writers trying to get their first publishing contract are getting nowhere.
    Perhaps we all need to start by buying shares in WH Smith, put a question down at their AGM, and attend in person, make the writers voice heard in a place they can't avoid...

  4. Little wonder Waterstones are no longer financially viable as a bookseller but have to rely on massive sponsorship from a Russian billionaire for their survival. Not forgetting their deal with 'the devil' (to quote James Daunt) amazon. A 21st century Fahrenheit 451 for the print book? Let's hope not... but the 'booksellers' aren't helping. This all sounds very familiar. (Yes, I'm another midlist author and yes, I have a few similar stories I could tell, despite a personal assurance from James Daunt that my stock and events wouldn't be affected by Waterstones policy change...)

  5. I've posted this link on my blog, Matt.

  6. This is ludicrous, Matt. They may as well just cancel all stock other than the latest kiss and tell or 'celeb author'. Bookshops sell books: writers write books. The two ought to be joined at the hip, not lie forever separated by computer statistics and sheer bone-idleness on the part of disinterested staff. I wish you huge success in America, Canada, and everywhere else.

  7. I had to give up reading your post because white on black gives me a migraine! However, I get your point and I think it is shameful the way you have been treated by the bookstores! After all the hard work and research you put into your books, they could at least be courteous. No wonder the bookstores are closing all over the place.
    Don't give up! Have faith in what you are doing and do as much self-promotion as you can. Then, perhaps it will all come out right in the end. I do hope so. (smile)

  8. We've talked about this before, Matt, but I'm still gobsmacked.

    You provide your insights with great thought and humility, as ever, and I applaud you for sharing this 'reality check'.

    Greed and shoddiness are at the core of this problem and these traits are so deep-rooted, they are almost impossible to overcome. Almost. Nothing is impossible.

    Even if every mid-list author in the world did a post like this, I wonder if those with the power to change would just collectively shrug and carry on as usual. However, like all industries, we are in a state of flux, so we can only hope for positive changes.

    It seems it's tougher than ever to make that breakthrough, let alone sustain a career. I, for one, am not put off...

    "Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds."
    Orison Swett Marden

  9. Ps. A further thought: surely the ultimate power is in the hands of the readers, if enough protest...

  10. This is just too b***** depressing...

  11. Well, I feel utterly deflated now. Should I burn all my story outlines and stop trying for my book 3 commission? Actually no, I won't. I love to write too much to give it all up. With regard to my two health books, I have had pretty bad experiences with Waterstone's, with a similar tale to you, Matt. For a newbie like me, it is a constant struggle trying to promote my books, especailly as no-one else seems interested enough. I've no complaints with my publisher Need2Know. They have been very professional. I can see why writers seem to prefer self-publishing.

  12. Great article, Matt, and I must say you're amazingly polite about what happened to you! I have my own similar stories, but will include one that supports what you're saying. Awhile back, I was shopping my novel, THE BITCH, and it was recommended by a prominent literary figure to a top editor at a Legacy 6 who had just gotten his own imprint. He turned it down, and, in confidence told my friend who'd recommended it to him, that while he thoughtg it one of the best novels he'd read that year, he couldn't publish it because his boss (yes, even big-time imprint editors have bosses) had told him that if he signed any book that didn't net at least $30,000 he'd be fired. Not chewed out, not had the corner office taken away or his expense account taken away, but... FIRED. These guys spend their days now not trying to find literary excellence or new authors, but mostly in trying to pirate other brand names away from other publishers.

    I'm happy to report that there are newer publishers out there who are like the oldtimers in publishing--who still look for quality. They're small, but they're growing. Folks like Jon Bassoff at New Pulp Press, Al Guthrie at Blasted Heath, Brain Lindenmuth at Snubnose and several others. (Sorry I didn't mention them all.) They're beginning to get books reviewed by the standard and respected reviewers and even beginning to get books nominated by respected award-givers, normally restricted to the Legacy 6 folks. People still read and the industry is toppling but there are quality publishers who, albeit small now, will eventually take their place.

    Your manners are superb, sir. I do a lot of cursing myself...

  13. It's interesting, sadly, how many mid-listers recognise Matt's troubles. I know I do, and frankly, have seen and heard much worse from the very people who should be supporting authors. There's a disconnect here: publishers (for the most part) don't think about books in the same way as the people who produce them. Writers spend years honing craft, chasing agents, chasing the first book deal; these are often thankless but heartfelt tasks. If it wasn't books, for publishers, it would be ball-bearings, or pork-bellies ... It's product, end of. I have never encountered anyone in Big 6 publishing who cared about the career of a writer who wasn't a brand name. I still don't think they have even begun to grasp how disenchanted mid-listers are, or, why they're deserting them in their droves. Six-months ago no-one would have spoken out like this, now that the power is shifting and new options emerging, it's becoming commonplace. I'm almost bracing myself for more horror stories to emerge.

  14. The one surprise in your post here, Matt, and the comments as well, is that you have not looked more deeply into what is happening for authors with a great series, such as yours, on Amazon. I hate to harp on Amazon, because it is a monster with sharp teeth, but there are MANY authors now seeing very decent sales and royalties just on the digital versions of their books. Every single dynamic you are talking about here is nonexistent when you publish into Amazon (and other digital readers, but Amazon has the clout), in digital form. Readers are crazed for more fiction, and the series is the success model. I'll say more over on the Google+ group where I saw your link. Just don't think that Amazon is "only promoting" any particular group. They have created a selling machine that is available to every single author-publisher. In the digital form, your books would take off nicely as soon as you make them available and known, and that, my friend, is in your own hands, not some bumbling distributor or bookseller.

    1. Good shout this, Suzanna, but it would be a huge step/decision for someone with a traditional contract already in the bag...

    2. I think it would be even easier for someone with a following. True, they might not be able to get their backlist rights back, but they can try. Anything new they write, they should leverage their existing readership to gain an edge.

    3. ...and Mr. Howey knows whereof he speaks. On a smaller note, I have found Amazon to be a meritocracy when it comes to giving virtual "shelf space." If you can show them you are capable of moving a number of books, they will assist you with promotional visibility. I have *one* book out, I am self-published, but Amazon has been very helpful in providing visibility for me.

  15. Thanks for the comments everyone. Like I said, I was largely playing devil's advocate here and don't have the answers, so your input is invaluable. Suzanna, you're probably correct about Amazon. However, as Col mentions, my series is on Amazon through my publisher and I don't have any direct control over how they are presented etc. After eight books, a collection of shorts and two short stories I haven't seen any significant rise in the number of new readers on Amazon. I have placed a couple of self-pubbed books on Amazon, but admit to not being that savvy on how to raise reader awareness of them. I hate to over shout about my work on the social media platforms as such (that's just me and am possibly at fault), so if anyone has any sure way of attracting readers to the books I would like to hear it.

    1. Matt, I've been trying to get your last few books in the US as ebook, but can't find them. If you build it, they will come.

  16. I had the stars removed from my eyes pretty quickly after being published. I'd expected my book to be in most shops, but I discovered it was in almost none. I had to go around touting it to local bookshops, including Waterstone's. One local independent bookshop did me proud and had a great display. Others got a copy or two in because it was set locally. All the same, a year and a half later it has had no real exposure and so has had very low sales. My second novel is now out and it is in a few branches of Waterstone's, but I'm not holding my breath as it is probably tucked away on the shelves, not cover-up on a display table. I've reached the conclusion that self-publishing (in addition to trad) is worth a try, as I'm seeing people who have self-published doing very well.

  17. Thank you for your thought-provoking post. I have shared it on my blog and added my own views.

  18. Tell me about it, this does not surprise me at all.

  19. I can't get my head round the fact that without writers there would be no publishing business, yet authors are treated like dirt unless they are in the tiny elite of mega-sellers. Is there any other industry where this is the case?

  20. @Lexi: Yup - Music, visual arts, acting, professional sport. In all of these industries, salaries at the top have rocketed over the past 30-50 years; while 'the rest' can't make one end meet the other even half-way.

    I do want to push back slightly on one thing though. Matt says his books would sell, if only they were on a big display at Waterstones. Well... yes... but so would mine... and Lexi's... and Rosen's... and David's... and Tali's... etc. etc. In short, there are hundreds of writers whose books would sell 'if only they were given a huge marketing push'. Matt seems to think he "deserves" that display at Waterstones. And maybe he does. But so do I. And so do David and Rosen and Lexi and Tali and a whole lot of others.

  21. Yes, the old order is finished. But the only two things it ever really did for us mid-listers was 1. It got us into bookshops (no longer possible anyway because of the demise of the big chains)and 2. It gave us a 'stamp of appoval' - we could say we were published authors. What it hasn't given us for years now is money, fame, proper marketing, respect or often even courtesy, access to cheap printing and distribution...None of those things will be a loss because lately we haven't had them anyway.

    It will do no good to bemoan this.

    What we should do is look outside the box. We are not in the business of selling dead trees: we sell stories. We must investigate every possible way of getting those stories before our audiences. Not necessarily big audiences, but ideally big enough to support us, or at least to make it worth doing. Bookshops and publishers are not the only way to do that.

    Try....subscription publishing? Serialisation in on-line magazines? E-book publishing with targeted marketing campaigns which we manage ourselves? Authors' collectives? Book clubs? Think of the models they used years ago, even centuries ago. Dickens published his own work by founding a magazine to carry it, and then marketed it to the right audience.

    The good news? Technology makes all this much more feasible than ever before. And it becomes economically viable if we don't have to pay moribund publishers 92% of every sale.

  22. Eye-opening post, seriously. From the outset after hearing stories from established best-selling writers I decided to self-publish Gunshot Glitter. It's an experiment, I was just too freaked at the lack of control with the traditional route. What I would say is where your traditional publisher fails and the back-up mechanisms, employ the best Marketing you can and take back control of your books and look into print on demand and FeedARead maybe? Thanks for sharing your story though. I will share this post on my Facebook Writers' Circle today

    1. Thanks for the info, and the share Yasmin.

  23. Hi Syd, I totally agree with what you say. But if it came over that I think I deserve more than others then it wasn't my intention. Far from it, my reason for writing was to show the struggle all authors face through current practices. I was using my own dilemma to make a point, that's all. Of course everyone 'deserves' the same opportunities, and I'm no more or less deserving than anyone else. The reality of course is that there's not enough bookshelf space to give us all that great display, and we all understand that. But it would be nice to be at least 'findable' on an ordering system. Cheers to you and everyone else for your input. Matt

  24. It's a sobering post, Matt, but things have always been this difficult for mid-list authors and for those aspiring to publication. The obstacles have simply changed shape. While I agree that what has happened to many authors is unfair and unjust, publishing is a business and these days all business is cut-throat. Frankly, if someone's not a hit, they're in the sh*t.
    Keep writing. Keep producing new material in new fields. Keep working. Keep improving. Just like that first publishing deal, success doesn't just appear miracle-like for 99.9% of authors. Most big names were mid-listers for years before gaining traction as best sellers.
    As has been said in earlier posts, without authors there would be no publishers. We just each have to keep pushing ourselves in the hope that one of our novels breaks out and becomes a hit, then the rest might follow. Ask Lee Child or Peter James or any other "big name" authors who spent years as mid-listers before things took off for them....
    We're not all going to make it "big" - as has also been said there's just not enough room on the shelves. All we can do is stick at it and hope for the best because it won't get any easier as traditionally published books disappear from both our high streets and our libraries.

  25. I'm in the US and not facing the exact same issues you are. However, this is a prime case in point as to why indie publishers (as opposed to traditional publishers or self-publishing) are the future for authors who wish to make a living at their craft. And why ebooks are the future.

    What good is it to have a "traditional" publishing contract if you can't sell the books in stores? If you can't get them into readers' hands? I've decided (as have many authors) that I'd rather make money doing what I love, even though I had to take the indie approach, than to struggle for a traditional contract that means I still need to keep a day job to pay my bills.

    When I first started, I insisted I wanted a traditional contract. The longer that took, and the more authors I saw making a healthy living with indie pubs, the better the alternate path looked.

    Especially when I began making money every quarter that far eclipsed many of my more traditionally published peers.

    Traditional publishing has shot itself, and its authors, in the foot at every turn. But if you really want to make a living as an author, go indie. You can always revisit traditional publishing later, a la Maya Banks, Lora Leigh, and others, after you have the sales figutes and reader base to make ou an appealing choice to publishers.

    Then again, you might decide you don't need them.

    Yes, romance books have the easiest time with this path due to the numbers. But would you rather sell a few thousand copies of ebooks initially of your non-romance book and get paid, build a following and sell more copies as backlist with each new release, or sell a few hundred copies of a hardback book and struggle against your publisher and the distribution system?

    And, yes, most of my books are available in print via POD. But I prefer selling ebooks because I make a higher royalty rate per unit, and more money per unit sold, than with print. No, I'm no Stephen King, but I make a living as an author, which was my dream. It IS my evil day job. I don't need a day job to pay the bills in addition to my writing. Money in the bank and reader support is far more important to me than a facing book on a shelf. While that same author has struggled for days or weeks to sell those handful of copies, I might have sold that same number of books in HOURS in ebook copies.

    Would I like a traditional publishing contract one day? Sure. But it's no longer my priority. My priority is writing, which is what I want it to be. Yes, I have to do self-promotion, but the bulk of my time is spent writing and not fighting the very people who are supposed to help me sell my books. Because my publisher makes it easy for people around the world to find and buy my books with just a few clicks, whenever they want to buy them.

    I have 42 books currently out with my publisher. Because I'm one of their top sellers, it usually takes less than 3 months from acceptance to release day. Meaning my books aren't languishing in publishing pergatory. Meaning more new readers discover me with every release, and more of my backlist sells. And they don't have to hunt my books down. They can point, click, buy, download, and be reading in a few minutes.

  26. Matt, I feel for you. But I couldn't agree more with Tymber Dalton's comment. You should really check out self-publishing options and not pay heed to the publishing industry's self-serving mythology that denigrates it.

    I speak from first-hand experience. I'd been a nonfiction writer for decades, but always wanted to write fiction. However, I knew that the publishing and bookselling industry were deteriorating much as you have described. And so I was unwilling to invest my time in what appeared to be a futile endeavor...

    ...until I began to read about the new possibilities of self-publishing, especially with ebooks. When my job as a magazine editor ended, and I had no income, I decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a try.

    Matt, it has changed my life. My debut thriller, HUNTER, sold about 4,000 copies in its first five months. Then -- based on strong reader reviews and those decent sales -- the Amazon Kindle editors named it an "editors' pick" in November 2011. The book soared overnight onto the bestseller lists, eventually reaching #4 on the U.S. Kindle, and entering the Wall St. Journal's Top 10 Fiction Ebook list. HUNTER sold 50,000 more copies in the next 35 days, and it has continued to sell well since then.

    Yes, there are techniques to self-publishing successfully. I learned from some of the most successful indie authors before I took the plunge. But it isn't "rocket science," as they say. If you are willing to learn the basics, a midlist writer of talent (and you obviously are) can do VERY well by self-publishing -- MUCH better than by going with a traditional publisher.

    I've written about this here, comparing indie to traditional publishing:

    If you want to chat with me about this, I'd be happy to share what I've learned. I give how-to seminars at writers' conferences. Contact me through my blog,

    Even if you don't pursue this option, I certainly hope that the tides turn for you. Stories like yours are all too familiar, and they break my heart. Good luck.

  27. My first novel came out in 1991. I've been through four of the big six in NY. I've hit the NY Times, WSJ, PW, USA Today, and Bumfrack Enquirer bestseller lists. I went through the "higher seller through, lower print run" experience numerous times. I sold over a million mass market paperbacks with Random House and they showed me the door.

    Every time I'm told to support such and such bookstores, I reply I prefer to support authors. I've had my books shoved at me by bookstore owners saying "We don't do your type of books." Then I'm supposed to joint the wailing when they go out of business a few months later. Let's wail for the author whose contract isn't renewed.

    This is why I went indie and formed my own publishing company at the end of 2010. I've never looked back. I also signed a deal with 47North of Amazon and managed to hit #1 on UK science fiction and US science fiction in the past two months.

    The most amazing thing my Amazon editor said to me was "How can we help you sell more books?" In over 20 years in traditional publishing, no one ever asked that question.

    The reality is, unless you are in the elite 5% of authors at a publishing house, you are an easily replaceable commodity.

    On the flip side, I believe successful "self" publishing is an oxymoron. I formed Cool Gus because I knew I could do it alone. We need help, and the key is that an eBook is organic, not static. Here's a hard thing for people in traditional publishing to wrap their brain around: the product is not a book. The product is story. Authors create story. Readers consume story. Everyone else is in between. They either need to add value to that transaction or they are redundant.

    Much like midlist authors have been to publishers.

    1. meant: couldn't do it alone

    2. Authors, take control of knowing who your readers are. This is one area where self publishers excel. Use a service (such as Mail Chimp) where readers can leave an email so you can contact them when a new release is available.
      Direct them to a store where you know they can order it, because it is in stock, or they'll get it in stock. (Like Amazon. It's just easier for the author who has to take control of their marketing and supply chain anyway.)

      Bob's right. It's the story readers want and if your delivery system is broken (book stores ordering and stocking), then fix it.

  28. I do worry about midlist authors. They were the backbone of the industry, but with all the publishing house/bookstore consolidations, the corporations are only keen to find the next big thing. I'm guessing that more midlist folks will be heading to self-pub, keeping more of the monies while continuing to build new readership. Change is never pretty and in publishing, it's gonna be a train wreck.

    I'm also an internationally published author and I'm currently straddling the fence between traditional publishing and self-publishing. My readers seem to appreciate that they can find more of my books at reasonable prices (something New York publishers haven't quite twigged to). That fence straddling does allow me multiple streams of income, which is always a blessing, and the easy availability of e-books reduces the hassle factor for my readers.

    I will continue to support my local bookstores, but sometimes that a hard thing to do when you're not feeling the love.

  29. I too am a UK author who has experienced the 'midlist curse' of seeing my books vanish from WH Smith and Waterstones. This hit about 10 years after publication of my first book (which was an award winner and published all over the world). I thought it must be my writing at fault, but then an editor told me it's much easier to publish a debut author than an established award-winning author, so I took a hard look at publishing/bookselling and realised the system was at fault at least as much as me.

    In children's fiction, there are book packagers who play this system, creating a "debut" pseudonymous author for each series they publish so their books have a chance of being stocked in quantity. They also manufacture their fiction to appeal to as wide a readership as possible, and then employ experienced authors to write it but not under their own name. I decided to try both of those tactics with my own writing, and was all set to jump on board amazon's kdp with a new series when I got offered another publishing contract. Now my books are back in Waterstones (not sure about Smiths), so there is hope! Perhaps the system has changed or maybe you just have to wait it out, but I haven't had to resort to a pseudonym yet...

  30. Great post Matt, there are too many scams and pitfalls for the unwary writer to mention, but here's a shortlist of my faves:

    Reserves against returns: described by one agent as 'an open fraud'.
    Agents and editors who neither understand writing or editing.
    Publishers/agents unwilling to do any product development (although this may now be a business area for yours truly).

    And even though Amazon and others are changing the game they are still faceless businesses. In Jan I began publishing to what I saw was a gap in the market for one genre on Amazon - which included well formatted books at realistically affordable prices for the work involved. Amazon, Lulu and all the others changed the rules overnight to demand publishers in that genre add fluff content and either hike their prices or give the work away for free.

    It's all a business folks run by the unskilled for the anonymous to fleece the reader and writer so that some exec can add funds to their shiny car account.

    Today I am mostly wearing my cynical hat.

  31. As a self-published Kindle author myself, your blog makes for very depressing reading in regard to any aims I have to be published by a traditional publisher. Why has everything gone down the drain these days? It seems that no matter what profession your strive to better yourself in, all you get is a constant kick in the face, time and time again.

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