Thursday, March 24, 2011

Amanda Hocking is Probably Making a Mistake

This post is probably going to come across as hypocritical to the nth degree.  Just a warning up front.  It's hypocritical because I'm about to give some reasons why I think Amanda Hocking is likely making a mistake in taking a legacy publishing deal, even though I might do the same in the future.

But I am not Amanda Hocking.

Amanda is reported to have signed a four book series with St. Martin's Press (ironically the same press that Barry Eisler turned down recently) for two million dollars.  Sounds pretty amazing doesn't it?

But dig beneath the surface and I'm not sure it's so amazing.  First of all, reportedly Amanda Hocking has already made over two million dollars on her own.  She's sold over four hundred thousand copies of her books in a month.

Yes, these are cumulative numbers, but they mean a lot. Here are the things that she gets if she simply continues to e-publish on her own:
1. Total control over her own work
2. Works at her own pace and her own deadlines
3. Knows on an hourly basis what her sales numbers are
4. Makes 35% to 70% royalties and shares that with nobody else
5. Earns possibly over a million dollars a year
6. Is not restricted in terms of genre or when she releases books
7. If a book doesn't do as well as expected, the only person impacted is her.

There are admittedly downsides as well, which Amanda has blogged about recently.  She has to deal with finding good editorial help, which can be difficult.  She has to be responsible for her own covers, as well as formatting the books, marketing them, responding to emails, articles, requests for interviews, etc.

It seems that either Amanda, or her agent, or others that are advising her, are telling her that having a traditional publishing team behind her will alleviate a great deal of stress.  She seems anxious to find more time to write and believes that this is a step to taking a lot of pieces off her plate that have contributed to stress and a lack of writing time.

But I happen to have some knowledge (albeit limited) of the publishing industry, both on a personal level, and just reading people like JA Konrath and others who speak honestly about what it's like to write for a legacy publisher.  They tell a very different story.  So here are some things to consider, now that Amanda might end up working for a traditional publisher:

1. Answers to editors, marketing teams, and other corporate entities
2. They are now spending large amounts of money on her--so essentially she OWES somebody money.  When they give you an advance of over 2 million dollars, you best believe they expect it to come back in some shape or form.
3. She will not see the full amount of her advance up front, but merely a piece of it, depending on the type of contract.  On top of that, it will take her potentially YEARS before the books are published and she sees a single dime in royalties--if ever.
4. She will not know her sales figures unless the publishing house decides to tell her, and then she has to consider things like returns, etc., which take a long time to figure out.  It will likely be 2012 before one of her books is published and even longer before she finds out how well the book is doing.
5. She is at the mercy of her publisher now.  If her acquiring editor leaves and is replaced, it's possible the new editor won't be as excited about her books and there may be less support than there was initially.  In fact, right now there is so much buzz about Amanda.  Will the buzz still be there in one or two years when her books are coming out?
6. There will actually be MORE pressure on her through this venture than what she's feeling now.  There will be other people's jobs and salaries and bonuses that depend on her hitting deadlines and coming up with good material.  And she may not agree with what they think is good and vice versa.
7.  She will have to do book tours, interviews, and other media events based on having a huge advance and a big "push" from her publisher.  They will want to capitalize by keeping her in the spotlight.  This will actually make finding time to write even more difficult.
8.  She will lose some degree of control over her covers and marketing.  For someone used to having minute to minute contact with her audience and a strong connection, it will be difficult to hand that brand control over to people who don't understand the audience nearly as well.
9.  Most importantly though, she'll likely be giving up her e-rights.  She may have negotiated a better percentage, but it will still pale in comparison to what she makes now on ebooks, and she will have to give a percentage of that to an agent now as well.

This is simply a bad deal for someone like Amanda, even though it might sound good at first blush.

I don't think going the legacy route is quite as dire for new authors who are looking to establish their name or make a chunk of guaranteed cash up front.  But for someone already so entrenched and powerful in the ebook business like Amanda, this is a pretty risky move.  I hope she makes the best of it.

(Edited to adjust the reported deal price up from 1 million to 2 million, Amanda's own sales figures from 1 million to 2 million, and the deal as final)


  1. I have to agree with your post. Hocking commands such a a HUGE audience, I feel that she's leaving a ton of money on the table.

    However, another "indie" author that might reach a wider audience via traditional publishing could benefit.

  2. Very interesting point of view. I am not sure how I feel either way, but it is definitely a life changing decision.

  3. I've read that Amanda has sold 900,000 copies of 9 books in less than a year. Let's just say that she can sell 100,000 copies of a book in a month. So, if she released her four books herself, she would make at least $35,000/month, or $420,000 PER BOOK PER YEAR! That's at 99 cents each. So, by herself, she could make over over $1.6 million per year on those four books.

    And, instead of this, she's going for a legacy print deal of $1 mill for four books? And, she'll see that advance over time, probably incremental advances over the next two years?

    Unless she is getting a very sweet deal and the publisher is giving up on a lot of rights that we always hear that they cling to, it seems like it might be a bad idea.

    Self-publishing, Amanda has amazing power and control. With a legacy publisher, she's going to lose a lot of that. Lets hope that the print books at least double her readership or else, what's the point?

  4. Hey Derek, the price on the 4 book series has reportedly gone up to 2 million. But your point still stands. A) i think she can sell her books (and does) for more than 99 cents now.
    B) she will likely make more in 2 years selling her ebooks than she will on her entire advance.

    And her entire advance will not be paid until that fourth book is delivered, I would imagine, and that will likely be three or four years out depending on the release schedule. Her books will be released much more slowly, and she will lose out on profits during that entire waiting period.

    She will make far less per book.

    She will lose a huge percentage of erights.

    She will lose control over her work.

    There will be tremendous pressure to live up to high sales projections in a dwindling print market.

    Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

  5. But now she will have something left of her writing after the coming dark ages. And, It has to feel good knowing that her books will be prized and collected as valuable signed first editions. It can't always be about the dollars and cents. A girl has her dreams. Besides she's making plenty o $$$.

    CAPTCHA : ankst : I kid you not

  6. I think I read earlier that the bidding went higher than 2 million. I also read this post earlier, A tale of two authors...about Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking making different choices. Interesting. You can check it out here:

  7. Well, I feel happy for Amanda. She wrote on her blog that she's happy with where it's going, happy to be signed on for another 2M...

    I'm sad we're losing our reluctant poster-child though ;) Who volunteers to be next? (Oooh, ooh, pick me, pick me!) :)


  8. Amanda Hocking is incredibly prolific - she can spare four books to attract a whole new readership.

    I know she sells books through Barnes & Noble, but otherwise, all her eggs are in the Amazon basket. It makes sense to spread her bets. I would.

  9. Excellent, well considered post. Potentially lucrative areas though that indie authors/self-pubbers will struggle to get into without the advice and support of an agent and/or legacy publisher are: media rights (broadcasting TV, radio, film) and - more importantly - translation rights. Could be that part of Amanda Hocking's deal is tied into these areas. If so, good for her, saves her the frustration and cost of organising her own translations. I'm soon to publish a novel in paperback and Smashwords and Kindle UK versions. However, my real ambition is to see the book, both in print and digital formats, in Spanish(and then German and Russian). It seems only legacy publishers have the 'in' with applying for EU subsidies towards the costs of translation. Or, does anyone know of a UK or European based independent e-publisher succesfully applying for EU funding for translation? Regards.

  10. my 2 cents:

    As far as I can tell she's only contracted for a single series with the rest of her work being hers to do with as she likes. More and more, as the paradigm continues to shift in our direction, writers will have more, not fewer options for getting our work into the hands of readers.

    This used to be an either-or proposition but Ms. Hocking has just proven conclusively that it is not binary any longer. She can't lose really.

    She pubs with St. Martin's, expanding her fan base massively, who then seek out her other works, those NOT under contract with anyone. This raises her profile even further and provides her with a publishing partner in the future should she ever wish to step back from all the legwork the indie pubber is forced to perform.

    Win win, folks. Find ways to duplicate.

  11. I think she is making a bold move for her career, thinking long term, not short term. As young as she is, as fast as she writes - this is a good learning experience.

    It's not like she can't keep selling and writing her own stuff. What are 4 books out of 15?

  12. I have to disagree. Print still makes up the majority of publishing, and all she's doing is trying to break into that market. She doesn't need the money, obviously, so what's the harm?

    Points to your points...

    1. - You make this sound like she sold her soul. All editorial changes are up to her. If she doesn't agree, she doesn't have to take anyones edits. The marketing team and faceless corporate entities you're worried about will do what they do so she doesn't have to. Jumping in the water with them was kind of the point.

    2. - She doesn't owe anyone anything but the four books under the contract. As long as she turns them in, the advance money is hers. If she doesn't earn out the publisher might choose not to publish future books, but who cares? She'll still be $2+ million richer, and she can always go back to self publishing.

    3. - She'll get half the advance ($1+ million) when she signs the contract, and 25% of the rest each time she turns in a manuscript, or when the book is published. The schedule is up to the publisher, but again, who cares? This was exactly the thing she didn't want to worry about anymore. And since she already has the money in hand, she can focus on the writing. How the books do is relly a non-issue.

    4. - Why does this matter? She's already been paid for the books, so even if the books fail miserably (which there is a good chance they will since they're not going to be sold for $.99), she still has the money from the deal.

    5. - The publisher isn't about to orphan an author they paid $2+ million. But even if they do, she has nothing to worry about beyond turing in teh books on time. If the publisher ignores her or doesn't earn their money back, it's not her problem. It's not like they can ask for the money back.

    6. - Those jobs will depend on how the publisher sells the book. Amanda is in the driver's seat. All she has to worry about is turning in the books on time, which was her point all along.

    7. - She doesn't have to do anything that's not in the contract. If she agreed to do events, then that's her call, not the publishers.

    8. - Contrary to popular belief, publishers are smart people... much smarter than Amanda Hocking. Let's face it, all the girl did was rewrite Twilight with Trolls. In essence, she's following the path Stephanie Meyers publisher created, and she's skipping down it all the way to the bank. And good for her. Giving up control over covers and marketing was her goal.

    9. - This is true. Now that she is delegating certain aspects of her empire to others, she has to pay them. Since she's a multi-millionaire, and she was looking to offload some of her workload anyway, I'm not sure she really cares.

    Beyond all this, like all self published writers, Amanda Hocking desperately needs an editor. She admists the hacks she's been hiring haven't come through, so by turning to professional editors, she has the opportunity to learn and improve as a writer, which in the end will help her self published books, too.

  13. She gets $2M and a chance to vastly broaden her fanbase. Even if she doesn't see another penny after that 2M, she'll make up for that in increased sales of the rest of her work.
    It's great advertising.

  14. First time posting. I agree with what several people have said. Amanda is probably thinking more long term with this move, and from reading her blog, it sounds like she knows what she's doing. This is less about money, more about furthering her career and fanbase.

    And she can continue to self publish, so she'll keep making money. I'm interested to see how this will turn out for her.

  15. Everyone keeps saying that Amanda will be able to continue to self-publish ebooks while she also undertakes the traditional route. But the truth is, we don't know that. In an interview Amanda did around the time the deal was announced, she admitted to not knowing the terms of her contract.

    Chances are there will be a non-compete clause in there that specifies she not epublish competing works during this timeframe. Maybe they will negotiate this clause out, but for the amount of money they're paying her--I wouldn't bet on it.

    So it's not a foregone conclusion that Amanda can simply have her cake and eat it too--and this could literally cost her millions and millions of dollars.

    Also, people keep saying she'll reach a broader audience--but the audience is moving away from paper and INTO ebooks. Why would you leave a growing market to get a portion of a vastly shrinking and diminishing market??

    I don't know...

  16. On vacation Aaron?

  17. @ ANONYMOUS Mar 28th 2011:

    You have managed to put down so many people in just so few paragraphs. You said "All self-published books need an editor" insinuating that only traditional publishers can provide that service. Also near the end of almost every one of your paragraphs you kept "[Amanda] probably doesn't care, she doesn't really care,".

    THEN you had the GALL to suggest that Amanda was a (to use your word) "hack" who "basically re-wrote Twilight...a book traditional publishers put out". But it was really funny that you mentioned Twilight in the same comment where you said Self Pubbed books need EDITING. You need to sit down with a copy of BREAKING WIND (I mean Breaking Dawn, the 4th book in the Twilight collection) and re-think your words. You really do because you sounded like a bitter fool to me. Furthemore Twilight is justa RIP OFF of Vampire Diaires by LJ Smith & The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Similarities to Vampire Diaires (1990) are so close to Twilight that I'm surprised LJ Smith hasn't sued Meyer.

    And speaking of marketing, Meyer is the only author I have seen publishers actually "marketing". What dollars are they (you) going to spend on Amanda? I doubt very much. And the $2 million deal is nothing. She's made that on her own and will actually probably LOSE that while waiting for the standard 1 1/2 traditional publishers having going before her books hit shelves. Honestly, I think they are LOSING $ for her. They have so much access to bookstores then why can't more than a single-figure percentage of TP authors even give up their day jobs? With all this "marketing, editors, Promotion"? I'm just surprised!And Btw, consumers will NOT pay you $9.99 for an e-book, especially if the print version is $8.99. There is going to be a SERIOUS backlash and you people are going to be out, but I'm actually glad you're alienating consumers by trying to make them pay higher prices to cover your lease in NY and your pension plans. You'll be out on the street if you don't watch it. Tick tock, tick tock !

    1. I'm sorry but this woman is a hack. Her books aren't just filled with typos, they are littered with a million other flaws. She has made money due to the amount of books she's written a cheap price point and that people want to read some quick garbage on a bus trip or before falling asleep. Someone like this needs a team behind her as more people learn her name and see how unprofessional and sloppy her work is. Honestly the only person I feel bad for is her editor at St. Martin's Press. I hope they give him or her two million to weed through the slop they'll have to spin into a book.