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Traditional Publishing Is A Scam

So this happened…

Let’s talk about traditional publishing. I did so on an episode of my old show called Terror Trax that you may have listened to before. Here’s a link to that episode if you want to hear my thoughts back then versus now and maybe there will be a difference.

But here’s the deal. I was talking to the exact same company named above. I appreciate that they are a huge company that absolutely dominates the literary space. They are experts in their field, they know what they are doing, but the problem is they don’t do it for their smaller authors. Let me explain.

Stephen King is the biggest horror author of all time. He’s outsold every other horror author by millions. The only horror author remotely close would be Lovecraft, but I’m not sure how many he sold, but many see him as the Tolkien of horror.

Traditional publishers, just like record companies, used to be the only way you could get a book published viably. Amazon’s KDP platform started in 2007. Ingram Spark, KDP’s biggest rival, started in 2013. Smashwords, yet another large contender in the indie publishing market, started in 2008. The list goes on and on, but all of the big indie publishers didn’t exist until about 2007.

Now straight up. I don’t like the word “self-publish.” I feel like it’s a very bad term and used as an insult in the reading community. People hear the world self-publish and stick up their noses because it wasn’t vetted by one of the big publishing houses.

As if the big publishers haven’t put out piles of shit before, see 50 shades of Grey or its source material, Twilight. Bonus points for 13 Reasons Why which is my literary blood enemy. I could go on for an hour, and I have before on a previous YouTube video, if you can find it, about why that book should be thrown in the closest incinerator.

Traditional publishing was the only game in town since the very first publisher Cambridge University Press which started all the way back in 1534. That’s 473 years of traditional publishing being the only avenue to get your books out there to the mainstream. Everything else was basically a guy who typed it up, got copies printed, and sold them out of the back of his car. Not saying it’s not the same today, but it’s easier with Kindle and Nook being a thing.

Because traditional publishers were the only game in town, that meant they could give the artist a pittance in royalties and more or less own the rights to that author’s brain for whatever amount of time they signed it over for. You wrote a book, they took the rights to said book, and they sold it and gave you an incredibly awful percentage.

Even today, the big authors only make 12% of the cover price of their books on kindle or paperback. 12%. For every dollar, they make 12 cents. Big name artists in the 80’s only got 50 cents to a dollar on every cd sale. You work your ass off; they get the majority of the money, and everything comes out of your end.

Let’s talk about record deals for a second. Not long. Did you know that many artists would record a big album that went Gold or Platinum to only end up IN DEBT with the record label? Dokken’s first album sold 100,000 copies, and they did arena tours. They ended up owing the record label $500,000. THEY WERE IN DEBT to the record company for half a million bucks on an album they got paid $50,000 for in sales!

What does this have to do with trad publishing? Everything. They send you an advance. Say $2500 to $10000. Sounds great. Here’s the problem. They publish your book, and you don’t see any of the money UNTIL you pay THEM BACK in your royalties. So you get $5000. Your book gives you 8% of the royalties because your name isn’t Stephen King.

Your book sells 1000 copies which is good. If you hit 1k copies of your book sold, good for you. We are in the same club. Not rich or even making a living, but we have a very small fanbase who enjoys our shit enough to pay for it. Good job.

Now let’s just be generous and say the kindle book is $10. 8% of 10 dollars is 80 cents. You sold 1000 copies of your debut novel. That’s $10,000. 8% of $10,000 is $800. You made $800 in royalties. Great. I’d love 800 bucks to just fall into my lap, but that 800 doesn’t go into your lap. It goes into the publisher’s lap to pay back the advance they gave you. That advance isn’t a gift. It’s them buying the rights to your book and you giving up 92% of your possible royalties until you pay that back.

So now your book sold, you got nothing but your advance. You think, “oh well, at least the publisher will market the book, and I’ll pay that advance back and start making money.” Here’s the nasty part.

You got $5000. Great. They don’t market the book. You have to. On your own. With no support from them. You have to take the book that you worked on for years and buy ads for it. Go on podcasts. Maybe start your own podcast. Go on a blog tour or, god forbid, a road tour that you have to pay for. You go into debt trying to make that book sell enough to make you some money. That’s the trap. You pay for everything if you want that book to succeed, and you only get 8% of the royalties for it once that advance is paid off. They are going to keep making money off you regardless.

Let’s say the book gets big enough to make it into a movie. Guess who gets the majority of that money? The publisher. You sold the rights. It’s their book, not yours. So you’ve spent all this money for the book to get some sales in… and the publisher is still keeping 92% of your profits and whatever they make off the movie deal. You are their slave.

Let’s go in a different direction. The one I took. I worked with a small indie outfit called Project Fenix. It was started by a few other people and me. We decided we wanted to do a news website, along with some other stuff under that banner. Later on, after that idea went up in smoke, I started writing books and published them through this company that had converted from a news outfit into a small indie publishing house. Things went fine for seven books or so, then I decided I wanted more money, so I bought the rights to all my books from them, and we moved on with our lives.

I then started a small company called Skyblue Publishing which is my publisher. I have hired a full-time editor and a full-time cover designer. I work with a marketing firm that pushes my books. I control the Facebook ads and work with their ad managers on upcoming campaigns, I have this website you are reading this on. I control all of the internal stuff here.

These people work for me. Their checks say Jack Pierce on them. I am Skyblue Publishing, now renamed Jack Pierce Books Company after we had some legal troubles with some past employees and the trademarks. This is a company. It is a business. It has employees, and I pay taxes every year on what I make here and for my tech company that I won’t name here.

Does that mean I’m some crackpot shitting out books that are only the 1st draft and clogging up Amazon’s pipeline? No. The beauty of Amazon is its ranking is based on SALES. Not reviews, not traffic, not how many social media followers, it’s hard sales.

Your book or any product you sell on there is ranked based on sales alone. If you go to #1, as I have many times in my category, it’s because you sold the most copies in that category during whatever time period they are monitoring it.

So all the “self-published crap” that people talk about. The “failed authors” who couldn’t get a real publishing deal with the scammers that we call trad publishing never get seen. They sell nothing. Amazon doesn’t promote you or your product. You have to do it. Just like you have to push it with a trad publisher.

I don’t call KDP self-published. It’s not. Amazon is your publisher. They distribute it, they make the paperbacks, they list it on competitor websites, and they do all the heavy lifting. They are a publisher. They are the BIGGEST publisher in the world. The difference is they don’t give an advance, and they shouldn’t. It runs on meritocracy. If your book is good, and you push it enough, people will read it. Just like traditional publishing.

The only reason to ever traditionally publish is vanity. There is no benefit. Amazon pays 70% royalties on the cover price of any kindle book you publish. 70%. That’s a lot more than 8%.

Amazon pays you 60% of the paperback cover price minus manufacturing costs. It’s kind of a weird equation they do, but even with them, it’s still a lot more than 8%.

Traditional publishing is a scam. There is no upside to it now. They were gatekeepers, and Amazon blew the gate off its hinges. Stop falling for their shit. I didn’t.

I was actually talking to one of them about doing a book deal. I had a great novel written that I was very proud of. One that had nothing to do with the other books. The one novel I wrote wasn’t connected to Second Sight in any way.

I got an agent, they sent an offer. It was very long and detailed. I let my lawyer read it and ultimately passed on it. I tried to work out a better deal than they were offering, but they wouldn’t budge. I said no, and that was it.

I knew that if I left it up to them, it wouldn’t sell. Jill Biden’s biography sold 500 copies. She’s the president’s wife. I shit out that on a good promotional day. I’ve had books sell double that in a week where I only spent $250 on ads.

That’s the thing. I am very stubborn, and at the end of the day, I make the decisions in my life. I knew if I signed that paper giving them the right to change whatever they wanted in the book, it would just ruin everything I’ve built. I’ve always had total control over everything I’ve written or published online. Nobody else ever had the final say in any blog, YouTube video, or book.

It would have thrown 15+ books down the drain with one real stinker that’s worse than Kay is Away was. A stinker I couldn’t unpublish no less. I refused. I wasn’t interested in a deal for 8% of the cover price, $2500 advance, while giving them the rights to change it into some shit I had no say in. Not interested. I can make more than that advance in a month just working at the shop. Don’t need the money that bad.

I wasn’t going to sign anything that would jeopardize all the work and money I’ve put into this collection since 2018 for a book that won’t sell, and it’ll stink to high hell. Even my worst books get four stars. That one would have been 1-starred to hell. No thanks.

If that makes me “self-published” or amateur, I don’t care. I own the rights to my books. I own the copyrights, trademarks, and everything. I am the owner of the company that publishes them, and I don’t want to lose that control. It’s not worth it.

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