The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know


As we careen toward the New Year, many emerging writers have a goal to finally publish that novel and I hope you do! But the arts are kind of strange. We often get fixated on the creative side, without really understanding the business side of our business.

The publishing world is still in massive upheaval and it is a Digital Wild West. Old rules are falling away and new ones are emerging, but still? Knowledge is power.

In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, I go into a LOT more detail and I highly recommend you get a copy if you don’t have one. I spend the first chapters of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work so you can make an educated decision as you are building your brand.

All types of publishing have corresponding strengths and weaknesses and this is a decision only the writer can make. Not all writers are suited for self-publishing. Not all books are good for traditional.

And so on.

But today, dear newbies. I am going to take you on a tour behind the curtain. Also for those who are NOT newbies, feel free to pass this to family in a “Take Your Clueless Friends Who Think You Will Make a Million Dollars as Soon as You Publish To WORK Day.”

Since this is a longer post that covers a lot of ground, I am going to demarcate into three sections. Read all at once or feel free to break it up. But since these topics all work together, I felt breaking them into separate days would affect overall integrity.

Part One—Nuts and Bolts of Publishing

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Martin.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Martin.

Legacy publishing is a very old business that has not really updated its business model since the biggest traffic snarl in NYC involved a runaway horse carriage colliding with a drunken fish monger. In the early days of publishing in order to encourage bookstores to carry books, publishers invented what was known as the consignment model.

Publishers would guesstimate how many books would sell, send them to the merchant with the promise that, whatever did NOT sell could be returned at no cost. The merchant only had to pay for books that sold.


Can you imagine a car manufacturer sending out fleets of new cars that customers could test drive all day long. Run up mileage, spill drinks in the console, but then if they didn’t sell the dealership could say, “Nah, we’re good. Can you send us different models from another designer? We really dig that sleek crossover.”

Because often that is what happens with books. People frequently use their local Barnes & Noble like a freaking library. They go into the adjacent Starbucks with a stack of books, read to their heart’s content and then leave a stack of coffee-stained books for the clerk to put away.

Now the spines are cracked, the pages wrinkled and no one is going to buy that book, but the bookstore isn’t out anything because they can rip the covers off and send them back. Ultimately the writer is the one who takes the hit. Kind of the publisher but really sucks to be the writer as we are about to see.

Because bookstores want to provide a “browsing experience” they don’t want to rely on the new and far more efficient way of doing business, which is POD (print on demand). They like having stock to show off, which of course they do because they are not really out anything.

And I get that we (readers) love a good browsing experience and we dig paper, but now that stores like Barnes & Noble are competing with digital and POD, is it any wonder they are struggling with such a wasteful and outdated system?

Part Two—Show Me the Money & How Writers Are Paid

Original Image via Wikimedia Commons

Original Image via Wikimedia Commons

There are so many things that get presented as “blessings” for writers when in fact, they are benevolently killing us. They are undermining us and making it harder and harder to make a living wage. We can’t criticize these sacred cows lest we look like jerks.

You ever wonder why people just assume that a published author is rich? That is because this used to be a profession that did rather well. Granted it was easier to be elected to congress than write for a living, but these “good ideas to sell more books” have eroded the Author Middle Class and created a Publishing Third World Economy.

You know what a marker of a third world economy is? My degree is in political economy. In a third world country wealth is concentrated at the top. There is little to NO middle class and the vast majority are working poor or poverty level.

Which brings us to…

Compounded Sales

Back in the days before the mega bookstore, there was a very strong Author Middle Class. This author wasn’t a gazillionaire, but he did really well writing for a living. The reason was that a smaller store like B. Dalton often carried an author’s backlist. If you are old enough to remember browsing these small stores, you might even remember that factor coloring your decision.

How I ended up hooked on any number of SERIES was that the bookstores stocked the series. I didn’t want a standalone book. If I fell in love with an author or characters, I wanted to be able to keep reading.

What this meant was that writers weren’t being paid royalties from ONE book, but many books. Even if the author didn’t write series, if the author had multiple titles, odds were pretty good that the store ordered those, so even with single titles, a browsing reader could be assured they could get more than one title from THAT author.

But there was a downside…for the reader. Books were more expensive. The store was not the size of an aircraft hangar and had no place to buy a frappucino and good luck being able to buy a figurine of a chubby cat reading Shakespeare.

The MegaStore is GREAT for READERS…and Writers of COURSE

Spawn writing his memoirs.

Good luck getting good placement BABY WRITER.

So then Borders and B&N came on the scene. I still remember how they were lauded. How they were going to improve literacy because books would be so much more affordable! They were “cultural centers” and “bookish hubs”. Writers will get so much more “exposure.”

***For those who don’t know, “exposure” is my trigger word.

But there was a problem. There is no free lunch. Those “deep discounts” came at a cost…to the writers. In order to discount the books the way they do, the mega stores don’t stock like the old indie bookstores unless an author is a household name guaranteed to sell.

Megastores are in the business of moving high volume. That is how they give the consumer the discount. Books, for the first time in history, had a far shorter shelf life than ever before.

Instead of books remaining in the store and giving the writer time to cultivate a fan base, the covers were ripped off and the books pulped.

As a consequence? The mid-list author (Author Middle Class) was nearly wiped out. Authors who’d made a very good living previously had to return to the regular workforce (I.e. teaching) because they no longer could live off their writing income.

I had a friend of mine who won a Nebula Award in science fiction. She went from making a regular income off ELEVEN titles, to making income off ONE title at a time.

Even though she was a respected and award-winning author, she had to give up writing full time (until Amazon).

***This was all until Amazon, by the way. Many of these authors who were driven to poverty actually now make more money than they ever did traditionally published and they no longer have to be pillaged by megastores and discount outlets. Which is why I get pissy when people act like Amazon is the devil.

Megastores make money with volume and offering the newest shiny. But books often are like fine wine. I said wine, not whine ;). They need time to mature.

The problem was that the very literary ecosystem that helped launch unknown books like The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood into legendary status…was destroyed. Traded for beads frappucinos. Borders and Barnes & Noble obliterated the small bookstore and took with it the earning ability of many writers.

The mega-bestsellers did VERY well. Ergo my reference to Publishing Third World. Wealth was redistributed and concentrated at the top and the middle class was eradicated.

Book Placement

Screen Shot 2012-03-26 at 8.14.34 AM

If you do not have an on-line platform, then Browsing Roulette is about the best you can hope for. But those spots in a bookstore are all negotiated in a writer’s contract. Those front slots on a table are premium real estate.

Same with displays. Ironically, though, the authors with the most selling power often get the best displays (remember the volume thing). But, George R.R. Martin is probably going to sell books. The writers who need that placement the most are the least likely to get it.

This isn’t personal. It’s business.

If I came out with a novel, I am going to sell a heck of a lot less than George R.R. Martin. Well, at least five or six copies less 😛 .

In seriousness, though it makes sense to display your heavy hitters. Problem is then that the newer writer no one knows then better hope her last name falls at the fortuitous eye-level because she will be spine-out on a shelf.

And if the time runs out and no sale? Off with that cover and the book is pulped.


Even though advances are now about as rare as unicorn tears, they are still worth addressing. Before I became a writer I bought books everywhere. Because it was not my profession I guess I really just never put any thought into how that writer was paid. If I bought a book at a used bookstore and it looked new, I assumed the writer was paid already. I had no idea what a remainder was (more on that in a moment).

I’d also watched movies and heard this term “advance” tossed around as if it meant money rained from the sky. In fact, as a new writer, I dreamed of all kinds of ways to spend my million dollar advance.

Advances are not free money. They are essentially a payday loan. It is money loaned to the author against the money eventually earned in royalties.

So if an author is given a $20,000 advance, he is not paid another dime until that book earns over $20,000.

Herein lies the pickle.

If an author doesn’t “earn out” the advance, odds are she will not be given another book deal. So, if you get that $20,000 and the book makes $19,700? No more deals. That’s why BIG advances seem like a good thing, but can actually wreck a career. It’s far easier to earn out a $20,000 advance than a $90,000 one.

Writers don’t have to pay back the advance, but if it doesn’t “earn out” it means the writer is not a wise investment for the publisher so the odds are not good for the author getting another book deal. Depending on the author or the book, they might get another deal. But with newer authors? Probably not. And first-time authors? Forget about an advance. Not happening unless your name is Kardashian.

This was a really big deal before the digital age because traditional publishing WAS the only game in town. So if an author didn’t make her quota? Game over.

These days, advances are pretty much a thing of the past. Any money most writers will make are going to come from US buying new books from them.

Tip: Digital pays the best royalties.

Print Runs

Screen Shot 2012-05-04 at 11.05.40 AM

One can tell how much confidence a publisher has in a book (author) by the print run. Low print runs mean the publisher is being conservative to hedge losses…but low print runs mean the writer doesn’t make as much. A standard print run for a new unknown author has always been around 10,000 books. But traditional tends to limit authors to one book a year so even if an author makes $2 per book, that is $20,000 before taxes.

Yes, J.K. Rowling is a billionaire but she is not the norm.

***Btw, all of this is VERY unscientific and very broad strokes to give y’all the gist.

This isn’t BAD for the new writer because it is way easier to sell out that 10,000 and then she will get a bigger run the next book and the next as her brand grows (if she doesn’t starve in the meantime).

However, higher print runs? We are in the same deal with advances. If you don’t sell out your print run, the remaining copies are remaindered. 

There are ways writers can buy a portion of their remainders to sell by hand and they can get a far lower royalty off remaindered copies that are then sold through wholesale outlets and used bookstores.

Usually if you see a new book at a used bookstore and it looks like this (pic below)? It is a remaindered copy. So don’t assume that a writer was paid a full royalty the first go. That isn’t always the case.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 8.50.18 AM

Image courtesy of Angela Quarles

Yes, this is a great fabulous discount for the reader, but when I see this? My heart feels heavy and sad for the author. That is why I encourage readers to please try to buy new from the author. The reason is that those sales can make the difference in that author earning out the advance, selling out a print run and getting their next book contract.

Also rumor has it authors are fond of eating and paying their power bills, too 😉 .

Because used bookstores do not favor self-published and indie authors, most of their stock will be legacy published authors. This means you (readers) supporting who you like with a new sale becomes far more important to that writer’s future and career.


Traditionally published authors are often paid yearly. Sometimes quarterly. That is negotiated. It is why you have an agent. So whatever the author makes, the agent makes sure the publisher pays, then takes 15% (pretty standard).

So writers are paid like farmers. Let your family know that your down payment on the yacht might be delayed.

***And writers today CAN make money, we just can’t do it the old-fashioned way which was to just write a book, get an agent then land a book in a bookstore and pray for the best. It involves a LOT more these days, but the authors who hustle can do well.

Part Three—Reviews Matter

I get that a lot of people buy used books or go to a library because they are on a budget. Been there so *fist bump*. You can still support writers in meaningful ways.

Even if you buy new, there is another way you can support writers you love. Write a REVIEW. A GOOD ONE.

As a writer I have a personal policy. I will never leave a negative review. Ever once in a blue moon I vaguely mention a work I didn’t like when teaching craft (though I never give names or titles). If people really want to google key words and figure out the book that I am referring to? Go for it. Maybe y’all will read it and have a far different experience.

But these days reviews are more important than ever. I am not going to put in a one or two star and tank the author’s overall ranking because fiction is subjective. That author just cannot please everyone and God bless ’em for trying.

For READERS. Reviews are more important now than ever before, especially for the indie and self-published author. The reason is that with the change in the publishing paradigm, the slush pile (unfortunately) has been dumped into the reader’s lap. There are a lot of bad books out there. But even then, that really isn’t all that big of a problem.

Want to know the bigger problem?

There are a lot of good books out there.

With the Internet and social media and the explosion of books there is SO MUCH content. This means consumers are overwhelmed with choices. Reviews help writers sell books because if readers see a book with no reviews or five reviews versus a similar title with thirty reviews? Who will they choose? Additionally writers gain access to promotional tools like Bookbub, but can ONLY do this with a minimum number of reviews.

Instead of sending me an e-mail about how much my book changed your life? Put it on Amazon and change MINE! 

Readers are essential to our success beyond just the sale. If you love our books, your promotion means a thousand times more than any ad we could pay for. Ads and marketing don’t sell books. Never did and never will. Only thing that sells books is word of mouth.

Beloved reader? You would be shocked how much regular people will pay attention to you. That review is worth your weight in gold to me for a number of reasons. Humans don’t like being first. So unless a couple of you are brave and review? Our books can sit with NO reviews and it is then unlikely to sell.

Think about a shelf with ONE item. It freaks us out. There is only ONE.

Is it poison? O_o

Secondly, when you review us, Amazon favors our books in the algorithms meaning more people SEE our book. More people SEE it, odds are I will sell more copies. In the on-line world YOU have the power to get US that awesome front of the store book placement. The more reviews the better the algorithm. Better algorithm, more views. More views, more sales, more sales—>we make a best-seller LIST!

<3 <3 <3

You can also use your social media because it means more than ours.

Tweet a picture of our book. Put it on Facebook. People in your network ARE noticing. Peer review and approval is paramount in the digital age. And don’t support your favorite author on Goodreads as a first choice (AMAZON reviews are better). The reason is the regular reader (who does not one day want to be a writer) is far more likely to be looking at Amazon.

Support us on your regular Facebook page or Instagram or Twitter. Because when you post a great new book you LOVED your regular friends see that. When they get stranded in an Urgent Care or an airport? What will they remember? THAT BOOK.

They won’t be on Goodreads. Trust me.

So there is your year’s end peek behind the curtain. Sorry (again) it was so long but this is meant as a reference/guide. Readers, we love you. Honest. It is why we are so stupid to work for free so much. This is a labor of love in many ways. Writers, I hope this helps you understand your profession better.

So NO, your writer friend is NOT YET a millionaire, but you can help MAKE HER ONE :D.

What are your thoughts? Feelings? Are your eyes wide open? Would you like to add anything? Also, if you are overwhelmed? Please check out the classes I have listed below.

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

Check out the Upcoming Classes

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! Fantastic as Christmas gifts *wink, wink, bid, nod*

All you need is an internet connection!


Branding Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE social media classes, ONE low price. Only $99. It is literally getting one class for FREE!!!! 

Craft Master’s Class Series with Kristen Lamb THREE craft classes, ONE low price. Only $89. One class is FREE!!!! Includes my new class The Art of Character.

Individual Classes with MOI!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS January 6th

Plotting for Dummies January 7th, 2017

When your Name Alone Can SELL—Branding for Authors January 13th, 2017

Social Media for Authors January 14th, 2017

NEW CLASS!!!! The Art of Character January 27th, 2017

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


20 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    Some great information here.

  2. Reblogged this on Indie Lifer and commented:
    Excellent post on the publishing industry and why most writers aren’t millionaires. Should be read by readers as well as writers. Favourite quote: “Instead of sending me an e-mail about how much my book changed your life? Put it on Amazon and change MINE!”

  3. Reblogged this on Mystery and Romance and commented:
    To all my friends who wonder why I’m not yet a millionaire, here’s the brutal truth about publishing, as told by a master!

  4. Thank you again for the information. I’ve started to write more reviews on Amazon as a reader. And one day I may need reviews on my first novel.

  5. Reblogging on my author facebook page

  6. Just fantastic!

    Another nail in the coffin of my hopes and dreams, to be some instant success. I’m sticking with being an Indy, keeping my day job, and sharing things like this as far and wide as I can get them.

    Thank you for this. Helpful in cementing that I’m on the right path as an Indy trying to build up readership on RoyalRoad and FB.

    I’m afraid I don’t have a blog. Just my FB group, character page, personal page, and website. (Shared to/from All)

    1. It isn’t a nail in the coffin, since many indies and hybrids are doing very well. The way to make a good income as a traditional writer is to be picked up AFTER you are already a band and doing decent at sales. Then they can take distribution to a higher level and you are more likely to get those premium spots. Also, if you are hybrid, you have the advantage of those compounded sales. But to take off in a bookstore is a far harder thing to do in the digital age.

  7. Reblogged this on Pearls Before Swine and commented:
    OK, last reblog of the day lol. Most informative post. Quote: “But these days reviews are more important than ever. I am not going to put in a one or two star and tank the author’s overall ranking because fiction is subjective. That author just cannot please everyone.”

  8. I already forwarded this to my husband, who keeps telling me to write faster so we can retire. I keep telling him our retirement home will be a used refrigerator box if he plans to live off my writing revenue. Thanks for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    1. Well, don’t be too hard on yourself. A writer can make good money these days but we can’t rely on the traditional ways of doing it which was 1) write book 2) get agent 3) land book deal 4) get in bookstore 5) wait. It involves a lot more these days but the author middle class IS coming back 🙂 .

  9. Succinct and straightforward. I shared this on my blog.

  10. Some cold hard truths to match the freezing temperature outside. It’s a tough business.

    • Chris Saper on December 19, 2016 at 11:43 am
    • Reply

    Terrific article!

  11. I totally remember dreaming about a big advance. Now I’m afraid to be offered ANY advance because I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot.
    I’m aiming for hybrid author status. I have some novels with obviously market appeal and I’m hoping an agent will agree with me and pick them up. My genre-crossing YA books? I’m looking at small indie presses because I’ve found I don’t like managing the cover artist, editors and all that. I want to WRITE, but I need pros to do that stuff so my books are professional quality (because readers deserve that).

  12. Excellent overview of the publishing business!

  13. Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

  14. Reblogged this on Frank Parker's author site and commented:
    Just in case you thought that writing a novel – or any kind of book really – is the road to riches. And why even good books don’t always make the best sellers lists.

  15. Reblogged this on Writing and Musing and commented:
    Publishing is a complicated business and people need to be aware of the truth. Get informed and use what you know to help yourself and others out there in the wild west of writing.

  16. Nice post, follow for follow?

  17. Thanks for this! It was super informative:)

  18. Great Blog! Thanks for the info 🙂

  19. Some thoughts:
    Do you feel Goodreads is unimportant? I have read conflicting things on this. I know in your book you say to target people who aren’t readers using social media, but I’ve also read you can’t ignore Goodreads because there are a lot of readers there, and why ignore people who ARE readers? Also, I read recently that Goodreads reviews are actually more important than reviews on other mediums. What is your opinion on that?
    Another question: If bookstores rip off the covers and send back the books that don’t sell, why does B&N have so many books with red dots on their clearance tables for $2? Does the author get screwed in that scenario? I will confess I’ve bought a lot of $2 books off the B&N clearance table.

    1. We don’t have to ignore Goodreads I just don’t care for it. When I do write a review I often will copy and paste it on GR too. Amazon owns Goodreads anyway and I have found that Amazon is better at shutting down trolls. My big gripe with Goodreads historically is they don’t do a very good job of protecting writers from bullies.

      The red dot books are probably remaindered copies.

    2. I appreciate what Kristen said about goodreads. I don’t think indie authors make any money getting good reviews there and the place is a shark tank. The majority of goodreads reader members have low opinions of ALL indie authors. Most of the goodreads reader groups are antagonistic towards authors and I have seen a few that did support authors fail because they did so. Be careful in there if you’re an author. I have had all positive reviews on goodreads but it hasn’t done a thing for sales that I can tell.

      1. Thanks, I appreciate the other perspective. I did a lot of reading this weekend and read a blog by an author who claimed her sales improved markedly after she spent time engaging with people on GR, and then improved more after she got more reviews (in all mediums, she probably had a point there). However, I also read a separate article that listed a bunch of points about why GR reviews are so important. I think one of them had to do with GR reviews being shared more places.

  20. Thank you for sharing your insight with us. Like you said with the volume of content, trying to find reliable advice about publishing can be frustratingly cumbersome. So thank you again.

    • kimalexander1 on December 19, 2016 at 3:13 pm
    • Reply

    So much truth! Something you didn’t touch on is that you might get signed to a small press, and they may GO OUT OF BUSINESS TWO WEEKS BEFORE YOUR BOOK COMES OUT. Ahem. (Got my rights back, thank god.) Thanks for all your smart words!

  21. Thanks for walking us babies through the haunted woods, Kristen. You earn your super cape every time.

  22. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog.

    • Grandtrines on December 19, 2016 at 3:42 pm
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Still Another Writer's Blog.

  23. You really don’t know publishing until you work in it! The first year of my job really opened my eyes, not what I expected at all, especially from a writers point of view ?

  24. Everything you’ve said about the industry is spot on. I know several published writers and their stories match this verbatim, especially the sad truth about remainders.

    That being said, I disagree about giving poor reviews. To me, to refuse to review a book I dislike is tantamount to giving a passing grade to every student in my class, whether they do the work or not. If reviewers only give positive reviews, how will I know what books to avoid?

    If I give a one or two star review, I try to make sure to be as objective as possible so that readers understand why I’m rating the book so low. If I believe the book will find an audience who will apprepciate it despite its flaws, I’ll be the first to point it out. But buyers need to know that not every reader enjoyed a book.

    If I’m looking at a book and it gets a poor review, (and I’m interested in the book) I make sure to read the review to learn why the reviewer tanked it. If the review is reasonable, I take that into considerartion in my purchase. If the reviewer is simply venting, “this author couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag,” or “this is the stupidest book I ever read” then I ignore the review.

    Reviews are for readers, not writers. We owe readers our honest reaction (if Amazon allows it, which is increasingly a gamble these days).

    1. I can’t agree less Phillip. We need to support each other or we all starve. My favorite aunt once said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I have given bad reviews to famous, well-established writers on goodreads but that doesn’t damage them the way it does struggling new writers. Kindness will be rewarded by good karma and your bad review is only your opinion, not an establishment of fact that the book you read was bad an not worth reading.

      1. I only agree they get a good review if they earned it. Propping up bad writing just hurts all of us.

    2. Yeah I go back and forth on this. On one hand writers get knifed enough without doing it to each other. But I think we aren’t getting good critical reviews either. I have read quite a few bad books recently and the reviews were very misleading. I just know that in this business we need to work with other writers and it is hard to work with people who have knifed you.

  25. Reblogged this on my blog
    with the following comment:
    Below are Kristen’s sad/wise/loving/helpful words. I add to them my own idea. What if all of us who are writers and followers of writers were to agree to review each other’s books on Amazon. I know some of you think quid pro quo reviews are sleazy and that all reviews should be honestly given without any pressure for a good review. That’s almost a direct quote from one of my author friends whose books I love and whose advice is otherwise excellent. Well, read what Kristen says below and then you decide. She’s right about how hard it is to establish a foundation for publishing — a fan base that will get your next book noticed. She’s right in saying that it’s unkind (and imo bad karma) to give a fellow author a bad review. So, here’s my whole idea. Send me email to with an offer to trade reviews with me and put our reviews on Amazon. Read the first half of my book and, if you don’t like it, stop reading and don’t review it. If you do like it, post your review on Amazon. I will do the same for your book.

  26. Multiple copies of a new book? What kind of second-hand bookstore is this?!
    Thanks for the tips. Writing my first full novel has been a real learning curve – and now no doubt working through the process of publishing it will be a whole ‘nother curve of its own.

    1. Do NOT get me started. I landed myself in hot water over that opinion a year ago.

      1. You don’t really see that here in NZ – or maybe I just don’t go to the right (wrong) second-hand bookstores.

  27. Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
    The Hard Realities of the Publishing Business

  28. Thank you for all the helpful information. Now back to my book. Also, I tried to like this post, but my connection is a bit off.

  29. Thanks for giving us a peek behind the curtain.

    Does make me wonder why we work so hard to write a novel in the first place. I already know I will never quit my day job to become a full time writer, and this confirms it.

    I have long wondered why writers permit the current paradigm. Not only is it out-moded, but most of us don’t come close to making minimum wage doing it. I suppose for many it’s not about money, yet, shouldn’t it be? Working, creating, making something from nothing…

    I hear you on the slush pile. It’s all the more reason why reviews are critical. Honest ones, please. I avoided indie authors for a long time after reading some of the worst writing in my life that had glowing reviews…

  30. Thank you so much for this post. It was fascinating and quite an eye opener! Great information about publishing that not many talk about 🙂

  31. So, what you’re saying is…. Traditional publishing stinks. Hmmm… Haven’t had any success there as of yet. You may be right.

    1. Traditional has its place. I think they are better for taking an author who has already demonstrated sales and then taking that author to another level of distribution (I.e. “The Martian”).

    • J L Hunt on December 19, 2016 at 7:57 pm
    • Reply

    I’m an Indie Children’s book author…so, I highly appreciate these awesome points…loved this 🙂

  32. Kristen, your history of B & N’s and Borders’ rise (frappucinos for all! crumbs for authors!) really hit me. My writers’ group meets in B & N and all around us in the cafe sit readers with piles of books, sipping coffee and eating scones. The tired cafe personnel go table to table clearing abandoned books. My mom raised me different. I just can’t. But culture has shifted and those surrounding my writers’ group have to be noted. Your guide to the Wild West is much appreciated.

  33. Great post. I will share with friends. I never leave a negative review. If I don’t like the overall book, I find what I did like. Karma. I have an excellent critique group with other published authors and editors so I will pass along your offer for a critique to someone who can benefit more.
    N. R. Williams

  34. Yes! This is so true about readers! I usually love my readers, but after posting my stories for free and getting a lack of reviews, I just quit posting the story.

  35. I review only indie books on my blog. I copy those reviews to Goodreads, but not Amazon, because I’ve heard of Amazon deleting all of someone’s reviews because of perceived personal connections with the author, even if those connections are only on social media. But I agree that reviews by readers who aren’t also writers (are there any left these days?) are pure gold.

  36. Great post with a huge number of points in it all worth plenty of air-time and discussion (as do the comments).
    I’ll just add a sense of scale for new authors. One of the later ebooks in my series sold a copy last month. It rose 3.6 MILLION places in the ranking list. 1 copy. Just makes you think of how many books are out there selling nothing.

  37. Reblogged this on The Owl Lady.

  38. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

    • Murielle Cyr on December 20, 2016 at 8:47 am
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Murielle Cyr blogs and commented:
    Great post for those who think writers can cover the rent with their royalties!!

  39. Reblogged this on authorkdrose.

    • ichabod2014ic on December 20, 2016 at 10:06 am
    • Reply

    Thank you for this insightful article Kristen.
    Happy Reading and Writing!
    Your pal,
    ~Icky. 🙂

  40. Thanks for the review. Shared this to my Facebook feed. 🙂

    Merry Christmas, Kristen.

  41. Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire and commented:
    That all important author platform. Can you say love/hate relationship? My first novel is published and although the second one in the series is happening, most of my time has been devoted to building my author platform and as Kristen reminds us, reviews are the most important. Thank you again Kristen for your words of wisdom.

  42. A very informative and insightful post. Just as well I have a day job. Thanks, Kristen.

  43. Wow. I can scarcely believe that bit about taking books to a coffee shop at Barnes and Noble and ruining them.
    We are so NOT allowed to do that in the UK! Yeah, some book retailers also sell candy bars, packaged sandwiches and the such, but spilling coffee on an unpurchased book is almost inconcievable for an honest person (i.e. someone who has not stolen it). Maybe its just a cultural thing- that you cannot take that book anywhere until you pay for it.

  44. This is really an excellent overview, and I learned a lot of things I was not aware of before. I am glad that I have a habit of buying new books just because I love the experience! I am also going to be reviewing more often! I was wondering if you know anything about how they decide to display books in libraries? I was curious if it is similar to the big book stores or if it is more chance and based on the librarian’s preference. Thank you so much!

    1. I think that is library preference, though authors really don’t make money with libraries (making reviews even MORE important).

      1. I know, but that is where I get most of the books I read to my children or to read for myself and when I really like something, I go out and buy it to share with someone else or the kids. Just wondering for exposure sake. Thanks!

  45. The truth at its best. Thank you and Merry Christmas! – Maggie Lynn

  46. Love this! Thank you, Kristen. As a young aspiring writer, it’s great to read from someone who’s been there and done that. Do you have any advice about fiction blogging? I’m trying to post short stories and get subscribers to build traction and a brand.

  47. Reblogged this on Phoenix Rainez and commented:
    An In depth look at publishing.
    Thanks to Chris The Story Reading Ape for sharing this.

  48. Excellent post, as always! I love what you said about the weight of readers reviews.

    • S Bard on December 22, 2016 at 7:37 pm
    • Reply

    Such a great article! Thank you for taking the time to write and inform the rest of us, as a writer and book-devourer. ? You’ve certainly earned shares from me.

    • Amanda on December 22, 2016 at 10:49 pm
    • Reply

    Great post! I shared on my blog.

  49. Very timely. I will include writing Amazon reviews on my list of new year resolutions. First up in Jan – Rise of the Machines! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insights throughout the year.

  50. Reblogged this on Soaring with Dragons and commented:
    Great article.

  51. It’s been too long since I’ve visited your blog! Time to get back into it for the new year.

  52. Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Kristen Lamb published a very important article about publishing and what writers need to know about it. Thank you for the truth, Kristen!

  53. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner, Indie Author. and commented:
    This is a good one from Kristen Lamb. Take a few minutes out to read…

  54. Is there a ‘protocol’ for writing a review for an unknown author colleague?

  55. Reblogged this on Whims from Valadae and commented:
    Some harsh truths and important insights into the world of publishing, summarized very well by Kristen Lamb.
    I encourage all readers and fellow writers (especially fledgling writers) to read this and take an extended moment to think about how important it is that we support each other; especially readers supporting the writers they like.
    Cheers everyone! 2016 is almost done!

  56. Reblogged this on 26 Little Letters and commented:

    I’m attaching a link to Kristen Lamb’s blog and her very timely post regarding the truth about publishing. Here is the link: Really good info.

    So, please, go read, become an avid review posting addict for your favorite authors, and help keep we authors writing with our lights on and our computers buzzing.

    Have a good one.

  57. Reblogged at Warm and Witty Words and commented:
    “Here’s a terrific post on ‘the reality of the book publishing industry’. I love the honesty (or brutal truth). It’s true for the American market but for the Australian market; the reality is that a bestseller only sells about 5,000 books. Plenty of authors sell under that, unless they market themselves well. That tells you the hard work I’ll have to do through the year before the launch of my book.
    This is a good read for writers and readers The Hard Truth About Publishing from Kristen Lamb’s blog. This blog is award winning and has lots of publishing and writing tips. It’s also a fun read, full of wit, which of course I like. I hope you enjoy it.”
    Thanks for such a helpful post, Kristen.

  58. Wait, Kristen, hold on here. I worked for Barnes & Noble for seven years. I’m not a business expert nor am I B&N hack, but you have some of your facts wrong. Some of your accusations about brick and mortar stores are true perhaps of other bookstores but not all are true of B&N.

    B&N sells very few books for big discounts, especially if they are new or are hot commodities. A small number of books are selected for discount promotion each month, usually the highly anticipated titles, but the discounts are modest and for limited amounts of time. B&N pushes its purchased membership program for customers who want discounts, with limited success.

    Books that show up on the big discount aisles, less than $10 a book, are generally older titles of popular authors or are re-published public domain classics. As for what shows up front and center in the bookstore: yes, some space is bought by publishers, not by authors (as far as I know.) Again, the big titles or famous authors who make the bookstore run.

    You are right that the café readers are a huge pain in the tush for stores but it has become part of the territory. Coffee shop/bookstore browse all you want as if you’re in the library. I’ll never forget the irate a-hole who demanded that we stay open past 11:00 PM so he could continue to drink the single latte he’d bought at 6 while he ruined books and magazines for hours.

    B&N did not pulp books, ever, nor magazines. We did tear off covers of older issues of mags before returning them to the publisher, (who wants to buy a week old Time magazine?) but books were returned whole to the publishers. I suspect they would eventually go to the remainder shelves of other bookstores.

    B&N tried for years to maintain large sections of the store devoted to every genre of literature you can name, and posted upholstered chairs where you could sit and read. And plenty of the store was dedicated to non-fiction and magazines and newspapers as well as to the children’s department (that remains intact in most of their stores today.) B&N had a section for first time publications and for the work of authors that B&N promoted as winners of their new authors’ program. Yes, it was a bit of self-promotion, but please don’t say that new authors didn’t have a chance.

    Every store had its vagrant community who came in and spent the day staying warm in our aisles as well as parents who used the store as their babysitter, homework monitor, and free research center. The loss to the store because of damaged product and destroyed furniture was large though not matched by the amount of theft. We welcomed authors to launch at B&N, we invited all kinds of groups to come in and celebrate their reading specialty at the store. It’s where I began my now 12-year relationship with my critique group.

    Yes, B&N overwhelmed the indie bookstores except of those who figured out how to focus on specialty sales departments. Many of the booksellers like me loved books, were trying to get our own work published, and gladly recommended all kinds of material to guests. We liked working at B&N.

    What finally ruined B&N’s older come-in-and-stay-for-the-day model was in fact Amazon, where readers could buy books often at a discount and have them delivered free. Once Amazon introduced its Kindle e-reader, B&N realized more competition than it could absorb. Finally B&N gave in and turned over huge sections of the bookshelves to selling toys, games, movies, and home specialty home décor items as well as larger sections of novels for young adults and the emerging new adult genre as well as the cafe. And of course, for the Nook, B&N’s own e-reader. Many readers resisted e-readers for years preferring a hard copy. Now maybe half of those who read regularly, read on a device rather than an actual book in hand.

    Where once B&N showcased multiple copies of many titles of an author, they were now down to one copy of the author’s most recent book unless that person was Rowling, King, or Patterson or a few of those other well known writers. I was there when we started the big changeover, and all of us felt an emotional punch at the loss of our book backlog.

    I have enormous respect and affection for the indie and specialty bookstores, but when it comes to decency of the big bookstore business, B&N is up there. Plenty to bitch about, of course, but plenty to be pleased about. Like the store’s willingness to stock material for homeschooling parents and titles requested by the local schools. Yes, B&N is a business, not a charity, with stockholders and some rich CEO with his stinky feet propped on a desk in New York. (They just fired the guy for lackluster performance. I hope he put his shoes on before he left.)

    B&N is today trying to figure out how to remain a solvent player in a market changing rapidly for many reasons. I don’t work there anymore but I wish it well. I want people to read, I want kids to read, I want writers to know that B&N is a good place to find their books. I believe in books and bookstores. I believe B&N wants to remain a viable store for people who like to read and for writers whose books should be on the shelves – it just has to figure out how to be that place in this decade and the next. I think you’re confusing the publication industry with the bookstore industry – they’re neighbors but not family.

    I think you’ve been a bit unfair to the chain, so thank you for letting me tell you how the B&N Bookstore really is – from the perspective of a past employee who loved working there. Thanks, Kristen, for letting me “talk.”

    1. I don’t know. I am glad you had a nice experience. Some of my best memories are of browsing/shopping B&N. They really lost me as a fan when they deliberately set up locations across from every indie bookstore with the purpose of driving the Mom and Pop under. They obliterated the indies in DFW much like Starbucks did to every small coffee shop.

      A lot of the observations I make are from the publishing side of it.

      New authors who need the discoverability are never going to get on those front tables unless they get an rocking agent. I get it. It’s business. But the way they really hurt authors is they won’t carry backlists in the store. Yes, they have lots of shelves with lots of variety and trust me I still shop there. But in order to do this, they can’t shelve the backlists that used to be the bread and butter of the author. Because of this many authors had their backlists shelved. I know this because when the paradigm shifted some of the NYTBSAs who first broke away self-published backlists NY didn’t want.

      But the second they saw authors making money, they grabbed up all the rights…but then did nothing with perfectly good books (a lot of kerfluffle over this back in 2012).

      Since B&N and Borders were the only game in town and didn’t want backlists for anyone other than mega authors? Sure, they will shelve a gazillion Stephen King books or Nora Roberts books (because of course those sell) but the mid list author? The one who really news those multiple title sales? Not so much.

      I think it is a real mess. All of it. I wish B&N would have been happy with one or two stores and trusted that the comfy chairs and coffee would bring us. I resented a B&N every two miles down every major street. It was just greedy. That Mom & Pop wasn’t going to damage their sales, but those small stores really were helpful to writers.

      I hope they retool and reinvigorate. I am not a fan of shopping solely on line. I still go in there and buy books and there is something to be said for the brick-and-mortar experience.

  59. Thanks so much for your helpful insights. Quick question, it seems that Bookbub needing an unknown, unpublished minimum number of reviews is Urban Legend. What do you think or know on this topic?

    1. I know you have to have a certain amount of reviews for Bookbub to let you use their services.

  60. What an excellent post! So glad you put everything out on the table for everyone. When I signed my book deal someone at work asked me if I was going to quit my job. I explained that based on my small advance there was no way I would be able to do that. Here we are a few years later and my book has been out for a year. Nope- still nowhere close to quitting my day job. Most people just assume I am making a ton of money, but they don’t understand about paying back the advance and then the amount that gets made after that point.

    Thanks for sharing!

  1. […] Source: The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  2. […] Source: The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  3. […] Source: The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  4. […] via The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know — Kristen Lamb’s B… […]

  5. […] Source: The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  6. […] Source: The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  7. […] In case you are new to the business, Kristen Lamb has an overview of publishing basics that writers and readers need to know. […]

  8. […] Source: The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  9. […] via The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know — Kristen Lamb’s B… […]

  10. […] Kristen Lamb tells us the hard truth about publishing. […]

  11. […] Source: The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  12. […] blog and her very timely post regarding the truth about publishing.  Here is the link:…  Really good […]

  13. […] is a good read for writers and readers The Hard Truth About Publishing from Kristen Lamb’s blog. This blog is award winning and has lots of publishing and writing […]

  14. […] the predatory practices of mega-bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble (for more on why, go HERE). These businesses had made next to impossible for novelists to make a living wage. Their methods […]

  15. […] The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know […]

  16. […] via The Hard Truth About Publishing—What Writers & Readers NEED to Know — Kristen Lamb’s B… […]

  17. […] was reminded of this in a blog by Kristen Lamb about publishing.; The most important thing is reader reviews on Amazon at this point in time for indie authors. I […]

  18. […] They aligned with the big-box chains and, in doing so, brokered deals that lined their coffers while simultaneously decimating the author middle-class. […]

  19. […] I want to hear my own blogs used against me? NO. Even though I KNOW the old big-box model was a terrible system for authors, DANG […]

I LOVE hearing your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.