July 08, 2012

Terry Goodkind, Publisher

by Alan Beatts

Terry Goodkind announced last month that his next novel would be self-published as an ebook.  I was surprised to hear this since, with the exception of one novel, all of his books have been published by Tor Books.  Since 1994 his relationship with Tor has steadily built his popularity to its current height where his books consistently appear in the top 10 spots on the New York Times bestseller list.  Curious, I did some looking around to try to find why he is moving to self-publishing.
I couldn't find out much.  There wasn't anything I could find on his website explaining the reasons and his agent didn't give Publishers Weekly any, either.  Likewise Goodkind's comments at PW didn't shed any light (despite one commentator asking pretty much directly).  However, on June 30th, he posted an extensive piece on his blog which, though still not giving a clear, concise answer, does state that he chose to self-publish because, "We did it this way because we could, because the story needed to be told, and this was the best way to tell it."  That might mean that he had trouble with his editor at Tor and decided to publish the book "the way it was meant to be" without editorial oversight, but the statement is ambiguous.  Maybe it means, for reasons I cannot guess, that the story was better served in ebook format.  Or maybe he did it just because he could?

Since I was still curious, I looked at the time-line of his recent work and some other details.  It's an interesting picture.

The final book of his fantasy series, Confessor, was published by Tor in 2007.  In 2008 he signed a contract to publish three "mainstream" novels with a different publisher, Penguin Books.  One was published in 2009, The Law of Nines, and was not successful compared to his other books (it hit the NYT bestseller list at #10, whereas Confessor hit at #2, and Phantom hit #1).  The significant numbers of hardcover copies that were remaindered also suggests it was not a success (when there are stacks of a hardcover for sale at Barnes & Noble for $2.99, it is not a good sign).

The following year he signed a three book contract with Tor.  His next novel, The Omen Machine, was published by Tor in 2011.  No other books have appeared from Penguin to date.

The current ebook was apparently scheduled to be published by Tor but was withdrawn quite recently.  However, despite the current ebook, Goodkind has said he will still be publishing with Tor and that there will be another book soon.  Given that, according to his own blog, the ebook was finished a few weeks ago, I wonder what the quality of the novel delivered to Tor will be.  Unless it's already written and delivered (in which case I'd expect it would be announced already), he's going to have to haul ass to get something to them soon enough for it to come out anytime near his promised "sometime later this year, possibly early next."

To my eye the picture overall looks like Goodkind left Tor for more money (probably) and a bigger audience (by writing a main-stream thriller).  He failed to get anything like the sales that his new publisher was looking for and either they kicked him to the curb or he broke the contract.  The he went back to his old publisher, who took him on.  But then, not happy with them for some reason, he has now decided to self-publish.

Bear in mind that Tor, the publisher he's treated this way, is the company that gave him his start.  Granted, publishing is complicated, being an author is hard, and that combination makes for some difficult decisions.  But still, perhaps Mr. Goodkind is not the most loyal fellow on the planet.

What is interesting to me is the possible long-term effect of authors going the self-publishing route after building a reputation with a traditional publisher.  Goodkind isn't the only 'big name" author who has chosen to dump his or her publisher in favor of self-publishing.  When that happens it's a bitter pill for publishers who have taken a risk publishing an author in the first place and then spent a fair amount of time and money promoting the author; which made the author popular enough to profitably self-publish.  Of course I'm not suggesting that authors should be permanently tied to their publishers.  There are many solid reasons that authors should go looking for a different publisher -- a bad relationship with their editor, publishers failing to live up to their obligations, an unwillingness to support a direction that the author wants to take with their work, and so on.

But I think that working with a company for as long as it's convenient and profitable, then leaving them when it looks like you'll make more money elsewhere is a bit questionable.  Writing isn't like working a "normal" job.  A publisher and an author work together to sell as many books as possible.  Granted, the power imbalance between the two parties often makes it a strained partnership (usually the publisher has much more power than the author, though this shifts based on how much income the author brings in) but it is still more of a partnership than an employee / employer relationship.  If an employee gets a better offer, I don't think that there is usually anything wrong with them changing jobs.  But when a partner in a business leaves to make more money elsewhere and reduces the remaining partner's business in the process . . . I think that the partner left behind is justified in feeling ill-used.

However, given the power imbalance I mentioned, publishers are far from helpless in this situation.  There is no reason that a publishing contract can't include a prohibition against the author self-publishing anything without the publisher's permission.  And for first time authors (who have almost no power compared to their publishers), clauses like that may become a standard part of many contracts.  Of course, such authors could just decline and self-publish.  But self-publishing adds a couple of jobs for the author and many authors just want to be a writer, not a publicist, copy editor, and book designer.  Plus, for an author getting started, there is a significant benefit associated with having their publisher's representatives talking to booksellers all over the country along with all the other publicity that even the least important title receives.

Authors like Terry Goodkind or J.K. Rowling won't be affected by this but the next generation of authors will be.  On balance, some protection against self-publishing for the publisher don't seem totally unreasonable.  If an author is lucky, a publisher will invest a lot of time and money to make the author's books (and, by extension, the author) successful and well known.  One way to think of publishers is as investors.  Each author represents an investment in time and money.  In many cases, this investment doesn't pay off and the publisher loses money.  But, publishers are able to stay in business because some authors become very profitable and offset the losses on other authors.

I suppose that someone could argue that publishers make an unfair amount of profit from people like Terry Goodkind since, when an author sells huge numbers of books, publishers make a great deal of money (much, much more than the author does).  However, the extension of that argument seems to me to be that investors in companies like Microsoft or Apple are making an unfair profit when their shares go from $40 each to $350 each.  Our society has generally been in agreement for centuries that when someone is willing to risk their money on something that may or may not be successful, they're entitled to all the profit that comes from that risk and that they're allowed to protect that profit within the law.  Should publishers be held to any other standard?

10 comments:

Terry Goodkind said...

Thank you for the write-up, Alan. You draw many interesting conclusions and include a wide array of information in this post. I'd like to help clarify many of your assumptions, however. There's a god deal of (unintentionally) wrong info that might bring some clarity.

Would you like to do an interview of some kind? Thank you.

Anne Lyle said...

"However, given the power imbalance I mentioned, publishers are far from helpless in this situation. There is no reason that a publishing contract can't include a prohibition against the author self-publishing anything without the publisher's permission. And for first time authors (who have almost no power compared to their publishers), clauses like that may become a standard part of many contracts. "

As a commercially published debut author, there is no way I would have agreed to this kind of non-competitive clause in a contract, and I doubt my agent would give it the time of day.

It's been the case all through publishing history that authors have started out with one house and gone elsewhere for more money on the next deal, and publishers have never found it necessary to try and prevent this. Switching from trade to self-pub is no different. Yes, it must be tough when you build an author up only to get dumped, but that's business for you. Writers are partners in the publishing process, not indentured labour.

Adam Whitehead said...

A further development in the story: Goodkind has publicly named and shamed someone who allegedly pirated the book and distributed it on the Internet.

http://thewertzone.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/terry-goodkind-publicly-names-and.html

Borderlands Books said...

Dear Mr. Goodkind,

Thanks for posting. I thought it was unlikely that my guesses would all be correct and I think that some clarity would be great. I'd be very pleased to do an interview about this. If you'll drop me an email at abeatts@borderlands-books.com we can work out the details.

Warm Regards,
Alan

Borderlands Books said...

Dear Ms. Lyle,

I think you have an excellent point,

"there is no way I would have agreed to this kind of non-competitive clause in a contract, and I doubt my agent would give it the time of day."

I think you are wise in your first point and correct in your second. An decent agent wouldn't consider accepting a contract with that sort of clause in it. Not at this time. But, as a professional you know that the usual elements of publishing contracts shift overtime. For example, there didn't used to be any mention of audio or ebook rights in contracts but now clauses regarding them are pretty standard. And, in the case of ebooks, clauses used to flatly reserve the right for the publisher whereas now there is more room to negotiate them. I was suggesting that the contracts may shift, not that they will or that the shift will be universal or uncontested.

Also, relative to agent's advice, there are still a non-trivial number of authors who get their first publishing deal without an agent. And who won't get an agents advice.

I do disagree with you on one point, however. "It's been the case all through publishing history that authors have started out with one house and gone elsewhere for more money on the next deal, and publishers have never found it necessary to try and prevent this." I think that the common "right of first refusal" clause in book contracts is an example of just the sort of prevention you mention. There an excellent discussion of how that clause can work here : http://markterrybooks.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-contracts-101-part-11-right-of.html .

Thanks for posting and sharing your observations.

Best,
Alan

Eric Rhoads said...

I really do not understand the loyalty aspect of this argument. Tor was Mr. Goodkind's publisher, not his Patron. Risk management is a part of publishing. Implied or mandated loyalty from authors to publishers due to that risk is anachronistic. Adding more onerous terms to contracts when authors have more an more options to distribute their works doesn't seem to be the smartest move. I will go out on a limb and say by this point, Mr. Goodkind's sales have paid off any debt he owes to Tor "finding" him.

Michael J. Sullivan said...

As a writer, I find what you are putting forth quite disturbing. Basically what you are advocating is that authors should be prohibited from producing the goods that we make our livings from. I've been both self-published and traditionally published and the income from self is much greater due to the higher percentage that I receive in that arrangement. I'm currently negotiating my next contract and although the advance is a very good, it won't cover my bills. So you are suggesting that I should be forced to get a "day job" in an unrelated field to keep my family fed? Why shouldn't I instead be able to put out a self-published book between now and the year it will take my publisher to get their book on the market? I traditionally publish so that I can reach a larger audience (even though my per book earnings is less), but if doing so means that I have to seek outside employment why would I ?

Thinking like this is very dangerous, if publishers were to add clauses that prevent authors from self-publishing we would have no choice but to abandon traditional publishing altogether so we can control our own means of production and put out books on a schedule that our financial situations require.

Borderlands Books said...

Dear Mr. Sullivan,

I'm quite sorry if you got the impression that I was "advocating" anything in my post. I was not. I don't think that clauses preventing self-publishing would be a beneficial addition to publishing contracts for anyone -- authors, readers or publishers. The most positive thing that I said about the possibility of such clauses was that they "don't seem totally unreasonable". If you'll look at some of my other posts, you'll see that when I'm "advocating" for something, I'm never that luke-warm about it.

Further I certainly wasn't suggesting that you give up your enviable position of being able to write full-time and instead "get a day job". Finally, I can't see any reason that you shouldn't put out a self-published book, regardless of when it falls in your publisher's schedule.

I think it's admirable that you've found what seems to be a comfortable balance between self- and traditional publishing. However, your experience with that is not universal. Some authors such as yourself get more income from self-publishing compared to traditional publishing. For others it is the reverse. And there are plenty of authors who have started with self-publishing and then moved completely to traditional publishing, in some cases with a great feeling of relief since they can now just concentrate on writing and leave the rest of the work to someone else. It is obvious that, in your case, you would move to exclusively self-publishing if your traditional publisher force an either/or choice on you. But I don't think that it's reasonable to assume that all authors (or even a majority) would feel the same.

Thanks very much for your post and for joining in on the conversation.

Sincerely,
Alan

Michael J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Alan,

I think it was statements like this, "However, given the power imbalance I mentioned, publishers are far from helpless in this situation. There is no reason that a publishing contract can't include a prohibition against the author self-publishing anything without the publisher's permission." That made me think you were advocating. This is the first time I've read any of your articles, so have no way to judge that this was a "luke-warm" statement.

To be clear, I'm not "both" at the moment...I started with self-publishing and am currently completely traditional. Six-figure contracts seem like "a dream" but when you consider self-employment taxes, the time it takes to produce books, and the fact that I live in a high cost of living area (yes I could move but I'm waiting for my son to finish high-school and get on his own - I think it would be unfair to pull him from all his friends) it means a race between next contract and the point where savings are used to live off of. I want to be in a position to be "ahead" of that curve, and self-publishing may be the bridge that makes that possible. Most authors I know have "day jobs" and I feel fortunate that I don't require one. One of the reasons I write is I value freedom over all else and even the hint of a proposal to tell me when I can and can't write is certainly something to get the hairs on the back of my neck up.

Borderlands Books said...

Hi Michael,

I'm glad we got that cleared up. I'm with you completely when it comes to valuing freedom. There's a very good reason I run my own business, rather than working for someone else. And, like all small business owners, it get's me pretty heated when I think that someone is telling me I can run my business the way I choose. But, since no business exists in a vacuum, I have to accept that my suppliers and customers will place some demands on me if I'm going to work with them. Sometimes those demands are too great and I choose not to deal with that vendor or customer. But its all an individual choice.

Regards,
Alan