Net Present Value

The publishing world is changing (I know that’s a not much of a headline—everyone with open eyes and a modicum of sanity recognizes it). Anyone who approaches a career in writing as a get-rich-quick scheme is living more fiction than even the most preposterous novel. Now, writers have to be in this for the long run. For better or worse, the old model of a publisher paying a large up-front advance that rarely earns out is no longer valid.

I’m tackling this first-hand both as an author and as a publisher. At WordFire Press we’ve released my own backlist as well as titles by many other authors. We front all the production costs (and don’t charge them back to the author) and give a generous amount of the earnings to the creators, but we don’t pay an advance on top of that; our authors would unanimously agree that it has paid off quite well in the long run.

When Brad R. Torgersen, one of my students from Writers of the Future and Superstars Writing Seminars, suggested he wanted to publish a collection of his short stories, I paid attention.  Not only do I know Brad from his work, he’s also a nominee for the Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Awards, not to mention his win in the Writers of the Future Contest and an Analog readers’ poll.  Despite his credits, no major publisher would tackle his story collection, but Brad wanted to have the book in hand for his fans, for something to show during his convention appearances.

With his credits, Brad could have shopped his collection around to reputable small-press publishers.  Submitting a manuscript and waiting for editorial review, then a response, takes 4-6 months minimum.  If he was lucky enough to sell his collection to, say, even the second or third publisher he approached, Brad was looking at a year or more before he even had a deal, and they wouldn’t get the book on the shelves for another year or so.  Best case: July 2015—two years after he had started submitting it.  For such a project, he could have expected an advance of around $1000.

But that would have meant two years of lost exposure and lost earnings.  He wanted to have the book in hand soon, to meet his needs now as he waits for Baen Books to publish his first novel in a year or so.  Rather than let the collection sit in limbo for two years, he was contemplating doing it himself.

Now, Brad is a bright and ambitious writer, but my warning bells go off when somebody decides to go the “do it yourself” route.  To me, it’s like saying “I’ll just remodel my own kitchen. I’m sure I can figure it out.”  Not only do you have to learn how to do the Kindle eBook version, but the Nook version (a separate thing entirely), and the Kobo, and iBooks, and Smashwords for everything else. If he wanted a physical printed book (one of his requirements), he needed to learn the Createspace, Lulu, or Lightning Source process—and that says nothing about simply having graphic design experience so the book wouldn’t look like an amateurish effort.

Rather than let Brad start the learning curve from scratch, I offered to have WordFire release his collection. We’ve been doing this for quite a while, and I have 25 years of design and publishing experience. We couldn’t pay him up front, as a small press publisher might, but we could get his book out right away—and earning money within a month.  I had no doubt that he would earn more in the interim than another publisher would have paid him (two years later).

Brad has worked with us for a long time, and so he took a chance with WordFire.  We were able to put his collection into production right away, and we gave Brad a great deal of input in the cover and interior design. He secured introductions from his writing mentors Mike Resnick, Stan Schmidt, and Alan Cole.

Brad delivered his final manuscript to us on August 6 and we had *finished, printed* copies of his book in hand, proofed, formatted, and laid out, by August 21.  Fifteen days later.

We debuted Brad’s collection at Salt Lake City Comic Con the first week in September. Brad was there at our table, signing his book, and soon sold out of the 45 copies there in the stack; his fans have been ordering so many signed copies from his website that he’s had to order another entire shipment.

Thanks to social media promotion and a book bomb shepherded by friend and bestselling author Larry Correia, Brad’s collection burned up the amazon bestseller lists, hitting the #8 bestseller slot in hard SF, the #9 slot in high-tech, and #13 in post-apocalyptic.

We can honestly say that Brad has made more money in two weeks from his collection than he would have received as an advance from another small-press publisher, and his book is available for sale right now, long before another publisher could have released it.  And he will keep earning money for the next two years and beyond.

Brad says, “To me, it was very plainly an advantageous deal.  WordFire is not a ‘nobody press’ with zero cred.  WordFire is the known-quantity label of not only Kevin J. Anderson, but the Frank Herbert estate.  The percentages offered were stupendously good (compared to a traditional small press) and there was zero worry about returns, as well as zero worry about ever ‘earning out’ or making money, beyond the initial advance.  Because I’d already written 90% of the material in the book, I didn’t care about an advance.  I wanted a handsome product available *now* for those (out in the world) who’d been asking for it, and so I could go into the publication of my Baen novel (next year) with an existing audience who’d already had exposure to me via Analog, InterGalactic Medicine Show, *and* my story collection.”

This is a great book, and we’re glad to have the opportunity to release it at WordFire—it’s our first original story collection.  I hope you’ll read these excellent stories. Click for:  Print version Kindle version Kobo version Nook version Brad’s signed edition

POSTSCRIPT:  I was already convinced this model made sense, considering the net present value of a book earning money immediately and building royalties over the long run.  But I received a shock recently when I talked to another up-and-coming author who had published a collection through one of those traditional small-press publishers.  I was surprised to learn that even from a respected, established house he received no advance, that the publisher took all production expenses out of the earnings (WordFire charges no expenses back to the author), and only then did the well-respected publisher split the profits 50/50.  Wow.  WordFire charges no expenses and splits royalties 65% (author) 35% (publisher) from copy #1.

Note, we aren’t open to submissions and I’m not trying to do a sell-job on our publishing house (though I would love it if you picked up a copy of Brad’s book).  I am sharing first-hand some of the startling changes in publishing.  Long-held assumptions are no longer valid.