And I get why this is probably confusing to some people. Aren’t we living in a golden age of self publishing? It’s easier than ever, right? If nobody else is going to put these books out, why don’t I just do it myself?
Since I’m kind of at a key point right now—with Terminus just out in ebook a few weeks ago, The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe coming back in just a few weeks—I thought it might be a good time to finally explain why there aren’t physical editions for any of these.
Although... okay, thinking about it, this may need a bit more explanation. Which could be kind of dry and boring. Let’s try it like this...
Why didn’t you just put out these books ages ago?
But how did you get the rights away from the publishers?
Well, in all of these cases it was just written into the contract. In the case of Permuted, it was just X number of years go by and all the rights revert back to me. In the case of Audible, they only had the audiobook rights, but part of the contract guaranteed they’d get to be the exclusive distributor of the book for six months, and then I’d be free to do what I wanted with the other rights (ebook rights, paperback rights, foreign rights, and so on)
No, I heard publishers never do anything fair. How’d you really do
That was it. Really. It’s not that unusual a thing to have reversion clauses in book contracts.
I think the disbelief here comes from two issues. One is that some folks take their specific, unique interaction with a specific publisher and then extrapolate that this is what it’s like for all authors with all books at all publishers. And like most things on the internet, the worst-case scenario is the one most people point at.
Second (somewhat related to the first) is for a while there were a few folks who built up a nice little industry around the idea of hating/fearing traditional publishers. They’d point to all those worst-case scenario contracts, yell about gatekeepers, and hey if you want to see what those idiot dinosaurs turned down you should check out my book for just $2.99! Oh no, there are caravans of traditional publishers coming and we have to build a wall to keep them out! But don’t worry—the Big Five will pay for the wall!
Am I saying all publishers are noble and true and care about nothing but the art? No, of course not. They're running a business, and the business aspects of deals are always going to be important to them . But reversion contracts are still normal. Any decent agent will insist on them. Any decent publisher won’t have a problem with them.
Okay, but now you can just self publish them all, right?
Well, yes and no. I can legally, yes, but as I’ve mentioned to folks a few times, the often-ignored part of self-publishing is it means I’m the publisher. I’m in charge of cover art, layouts, blurbs, marketing, publicity, all of it. And I just... I don’t want to do any of this. I think it’s fantastic that some people can do this. I’ve got a lot of friends who do. But it’s not for me. I’m a writer, not a publisher.
So I’m putting the ebooks out. With some help from some friends and a bit of money for covers. And that’s pretty much it. Because I want to spend my time writing, not publishing.
Well if that’s the case why didn’t you just stay with the original
As for Permuted... without going into too many specifics, I ended up having some issues with both publishers (the company was sold a few years back, so I’m talking about the original and the new owners) and the new directions they took Permuted. Long story very short, I wasn’t comfortable doing business with them. When I got the chance to get my rights back, I took it.
Fair enough. But self-publishing on Amazon is so easy!
Why not just have them make paperbacks?
It’s easy to do, yeah. It’s not easy to do it well. Kindle books are easy because there’s a basic, minimum amount of formatting—most of it’s adjusted by the individual reader on their chosen reading device. Print books, however, need everything locked down. Page layout. Chapter breaks. Blank pages. Paper choices, Spine layout. Again, much more publishing-work, not writing-work. Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s an inherent cost to these books. It’s harder to make money, which makes them harder to justify.
Well, they’re hard to justify for a couple reasons.
Look, Amazon is a huge part of the ebook market. Depending on who you ask, anywhere from 2/3 to 3/4 of it. It’s difficult to do anything with ebooks even semi-successfully without using Amazon.
That’s not true of paperbacks, though. We have lots and lots of paperback distributors all across the world—bookstores. And I happen to like bookstores. A lot. So I’m not going to compete with them by putting out paperbacks that are only available on Amazon. I’d rather take that hit and just not have physical books.
Aren’t bookstores dying anyway, though?
Actually, indie bookstores were doing fairly well, overall, before the pandemic. Even with the pandemic, a lot of them are still doing well (check out two of my favorites, Dark Delicacies and Mysterious Galaxy). It just comes down to the whole shopping locally thing. Do you want to put money into your community or into a corporation with a multibillionaire owner?
Yeah, these days it’s a tough call for all of us. It’s about how much money we have to spend and how much we want to make. But we all need to make that choice and do what we feel is right.
But what about all the money you’re missing out on?
In all fairness, it’s probably a small hit, and it’s more likely to cause fan ripples than financial ones. As I’ve mentioned before (quick, back to the FAQ) I tend to make most of my money in audio format anyway, and when you add in the extra expense behind a paperback copy, in the end I’d make very little money to please a few fans and annoy a lot of booksellers.
So, yes, I’m kinda like that guy offering to give up caviar for Lent or something like that (never been 100% clear how Lent works).
But what am I supposed to do? I hate audiobooks and ebooks! I want something
for my shelf!
It’s not in the foreseeable future.