the end of the world as we know it?

by Tess Gerritsen

Last week, after I blogged on my own website about e-book piracy, the post garnered some reactions elsewhere on the web.  A few commenters felt that my fears of piracy are overstated, and that we authors should look on piracy as a good thing because, hey, it gets us more readers.  Even if they’re not paying us for our work.  It is far better to be popular than to pay our bills, and theft is the highest compliment one can pay you.  If your work wasn’t worth it, no one would be stealing it, so cheer up!  Someone thinks highly enough of your stories to swipe them!

It’s a strange new world for authors, and I’m struggling to figure out just what to expect next.

Recently I had a fascinating conversation with a man who offers paid editorial and design services to authors who want to self-publish their work as e-books. Over drinks, we got into a lively discussion about what the future holds for authors.  He predicts that e-publishing will level the playing field for all authors, everywhere — and in a good way, he believes.

 Every aspiring writer, he said, whether talented or not, will be able to bypass the traditional publishing route and get his own work published online, at minimal cost., Scribd, plus a variety of other online booksellers will allow you to sell your poems, memoirs, recipe books, what have you, direct to the consumer.  All you have to do is turn them into pdf files and upload them to the bookseller.  You can also go here for further guidance.  It sounds so tempting.  Within hours, you could have your work available for sale, and be earning royalties.  And the royalties are a hefty percentage of the cover price — a far higher royalty rate than you could get with a traditional print book from a traditional publisher.   Why would anyone want to brave the gantlet of traditional publishing — the rejection letters, the dismissive editors, the astronomical odds — when all you have to do is upload your work and presto!  You’re making money!  

He made the whole prospect sound so tempting that I couldn’t help wondering, just for a moment: hey, why not? What author in his right mind would turn down a 70%  royalty rate?

But then my logical mind clicked back in place. E-publishing has not been known (so far) to produce a James Patterson – level bestseller.  I mentioned that particular detail to him, and he responded that e-publishing is just the entry point.  Those authors who have really strong sales in e-format will end up attracting traditional publishers, and then they can become James Patterson.  

In other words, his definition of true success really isn’t any different than what it is now: print publishing.  In his heart of hearts, he still believes that e-publishing is really just the try-out for the big leagues.  And the big leagues, even for this enthusiastic e-publishing advocate, is the old-fashioned printed book.  A book with real pages.

From the author’s point of view, e-publishing your own book does sound enticing.  It gives you a direct connection to the consumer.  You are both creator and manufacturer.  You cut out the publisher as middleman, and take home a bigger share of the profits.  No longer will some pipsqueak editor keep you from your goal; you are in total control.  And with the expanding share of readers who’ve moved to digital books, the whole world is your audience.  On the face of it, it sounds like traditional publishers are doomed.

Then I came across an article in January’s Fortune Magazine.  “The Plan to save the Music Biz,” by Mina Kimes, is about how the music industry has struggled, and how major recording companies appeared doomed.  

When iTunes and other Internet music providers exploded onto the scene, the worry was that bands would bypass the four big music companies — EMI, Sony, Universal, and WArner Music — and earn their bling by self-publishing on the web.  And indeed, more artists than ever are putting out albums online — there were 106,000 new releases in 2008, compared with 44,000 five years ago, according to Nielsen SoundScan.  Precious few, however, ever break through.  Of the 63 new releases that sold more than 250,000 copies last year, 61 were issued by major music companies.”  Yes, occasionally a singer-songwriter like Ingrid Michaelson, whose self-released hit album, “Girls and Boys”, has sold 286,000 copies since 2006, makes it big.  But as the story of Hollywood Undead suggest, the record labels will continue to play a major role, albeit a new one.

Even rebel bands who launch themselves on MySpace or YouTube still aspire to the old-style definition of success.  They want to be picked up by a traditional record label.  They want their work available in traditional formats.

So much for being a real rebel.

In the book world, I suspect this is also the secret desire of even the most successful e-pubbed author.  Authors still want to see their book in actual print.  They still want that deal with Random House or Simon and Schuster.  

There’s another reason to desire traditional publication.  The strictly e-pubbed author is frighteningly vulnerable to piracy.  If your book is released solely in digital form, pirates can have it copied and available for free within 24 hours (as Dan Brown’s experience shows.)  Which gives you only a 24-hour window for actual sales before your book turns into a freebie.  Think about it.  The book you spent a year sweating over has only a day to turn a profit, and then it’s dust.

Luckily, we still have a healthy audience of readers who prefer print books.  But within a generation or two, that audience may be migrating to e-readers.  At which time the book market could look very, very different.

How different?

With easy e-publishing available to every aspiring author, there’ll be a glut of content that’s never been winnowed down or edited. Online bookstores will be overwhelmed by the very material that now sits in the slush pile of literary agents. Some of it may be wonderful; most of it will not be.  The consumer won’t be able to tell which is which, because there’s been no screening process to weed out the good from the bad.  It’s going to be anarchy out there.

Then piracy will make it all free, anyway.

In that overwhelming sea of novels, though, a few writers will stand out and develop a fan base.  How? My guess is, they’ll distinguish themselves not through word of mouth (which is going to be difficult to build when you’re competing with a million other novelists, all of whom start on an equal footing in the e-publishing morass).  It’ll be because they’ve been anointed by — surprise! — a traditional kingmaker.  A real print publisher.  Or Oprah. Or a TV or movie deal.  

In other words, everything old will be new again.

In the meantime, as the world spins crazily toward the future, what can we writers do?

Those of us who are now traditionally published are the lucky ones, because we’ve already been anointed. This is our chance to solidify our brand and build our visibility, before everyone in the world is self-published.  By virtue of having made it through the obstacle course of traditional publishing, we’re ahead of the pack. When publishing swings to mostly digital, when everyone and his uncle can call himself an author, we’ll be known as the authors who were vetted — and found worthy of reading.








43 thoughts on “the end of the world as we know it?

  1. Chris Hamilton

    Tess, if the world were all digital, and you could sort out the intellectual property management issues (in other words, stop the piracy), would you reach a point where you didn’t need a publisher? Why would Stephen King share his money with a publisher when he can just post his work to his web store or Amazon or iTunes and get paid by the download?

  2. Dana King

    "The book you spent a year sweating over has only a day to turn a profit, and then it’s dust."

    I have nothing good to say about piracy, but that statement is too alarmist. It’s not like everyone in the world is going to stop buying books and go to pirate sites to steal them. Piracy is a potentially serious problem, but it’s not the end of life as we know it.

  3. tess gerritsen

    those who are already well known (the Kings, Pattersons, and JK Rowlings of the world) would probably find self-publishing to be far more lucrative. That 70% royalty is pretty hard to turn down.

    But those who haven’t reached that level are still going to get some benefit from a real publisher. Not just the editorial guidance. but also the seal of approval that comes along with being traditionally published.

    Self-publishing does come with some business costs. The publisher performs quite a few services (editing, publicity, cover design) that you’d now have to pay for yourself. Plus, they pay you an advance against royalties, money in your pocket before the book’s even written.

    So whether one opts for self-publishing in digital form depends on where you are in your career arc, and how much control and responsibility you want to exert over every aspect of the book’s production.

  4. tess gerritsen

    Dana, that comment I made is in regard to books that are solely digitally published, so there would be no physical copies to buy. Even if a reader was willing to buy one.

    If only digital versions are available, and the internet’s flooded with free digital copies, it’s going to be hard to convince readers to pay ten dollars when it’s free.

  5. kit

    I have younger people in my household, as well as co-workers, and I have been noticing a change in the language…words, like *piracy*, *random*, *ackward*, theres’ others, but those are the ones that come to mind.
    So, this seems like a totally random thing to say, given the topic….but let me pull it together, where I’m going here.
    If it’s *stealing*, then it’s wrong…but *piracy*, no, it’s not.Somewhere in there the mind flipped and it bacame, smart, cool, and cutting edge to do. Now, it seems to be the same way, with *random*, you are not scatter-brained, or unable to hold two thoughts togher in the same space of time….and *awkward* is the NEW embarrassed, as far as I can tell.
    So maybe it’s time to call a spade a space….piracy IS stealing…it’s also a con, a lie, and a put-down…which would really make the people that do it *posers*.

  6. Jon Loomis

    Excellent post; I think you’ve pretty much nailed it. My guess is that as ebooks become widely available from a variety of online venues, publishers will begin to pay those venues for promotional "space" just as they now pay bookstores (see iTunes and Amazon already)–smart publishers will also promote themselves as brands online. That ability to do online promotion at the point of sale will be another factor that distinguishes traditionally published authors from the herd. It’s also my guess that until a better ebook reader/platform comes along, we’re still only looking at the very leading edge of the ebook phenomenon. The Kindle is okay, but if the new iSlate (or whatever it will be called) is as slick as the iPhone/iPod touch, look for Apple/iTunes to eat Amazon’s lunch.

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tess

    Very interesting post. I can only hope that the publishing industry works out some method of dealing with this, rather than just look at the e-publishing theft problem and holding up their hands and saying, "OK, you got us, we’re finished. Goodbye."

    They HAVE to find a way around this, if only purely from a business/self preservation standpoint. If they are to survive, they need to make money from it. I hope that they do, and let writers get on with … well, writing.

  8. pari noskin taichert

    I’m about to upload my three novels to a variety of electronic sources. I’m going to be curious to see what happens — if it makes a difference to my bottom line.

    There is a temptation right now to simply take other books and stories of mine and publish them in this way too — especially those that might not sell because they’re "too small" for a big publisher etc etc.

    I see the e-revolution as something that can potentially benefit us — even with the glut of unedited books and the screaming to be heard above the crowd — but it’s going to take quite a bit of time to sort out.

    Traditional publishers do, and must, have a place in this new world order. It’s possible that their brands will become more established as refuges of quality in the oceans of crap. But they’re going to have to stop chasing only bestsellers because there won’t be enough to satisfy the voracious appetites of many people who’ve now resorted to ebooks.

  9. Louise Ure

    And I think there’s an important role in this conversation for the traditional writers’ organization like MWA, ITW, Writers Guild etc. They can help speak for us as a group.

  10. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Tess, let me second what Jon just said: you nailed it. The "what’s old becomes new again" theory is exactly the one I’ve been gravitating toward on this subject. Once upon a time, being published by a big name, traditional publisher wasn’t just a sign that an author had "made it," but that his work was of professional grade, of much higher quality than that found (at the time) in your average self-published book. One of the reasons traditional publishing is in the mess it’s in at present is the ever-eroding acquisition standards of the big name houses. Granted, they’ve always published bad books, but not in the number they are now. It used to be that comparing a book published by Little, Brown with one published by Sherman the Unpublished Author was like comparing apples with oranges. Not anymore. The difference just isn’t that great.

    When this downward cycle finally comes full circle, IMO, traditional publishers will survive because they’ve revived the public perception that having your book bought and published by a traditional house means it’s a better, more polished read than 95% of those published electronically — or at least, it’s not the work of a gas station cashier who just got $250,000 for writing a high-concept thriller about a serial killer who targets a gang of terrorists living in the Bronx apartment above his own.

    (Wait a minute. What did I just say? Hmmm, that was actually pretty good. I’ve got dibs on that idea, people!)

  11. Eric Christopherson

    But will the big publishers stay the big publishers? There’s Amazon as a potential usurper and also, with barriers to entry low in epublishing, the possibility for some small publishers to supplant today’s kingpins. With electronic reading reaching 50% within five to ten years (the estimate range I’ve seen) it could happen fast.

  12. D

    I know that piracy really looks like you’re losing something or even that something has been forcibly taken from you, but I promise you that in the vast majority of cases, it simply isn’t so. I’m sure that thousands upon thousands of copies of Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer and Stephen King books are pirated every year, and I’m equally sure that their royalty checks continue rolling in. Their hard work and effort have not, as you so hyperbolically stated, turned to dust.

    Say it with me now: "A pirated copy is not a lost sale."

    I’ll give you a perfect example, if you’re still in doubt. I first read American Gods by Neil Gaiman because a friend loaned me his copy (an act which netted Gaiman exactly as much money as he would have gotten had I downloaded a PDF of it). Since then, I’ve bought every book he’s published, including multiple copies of American Gods both for myself and as gifts for others.

    Fact: My friend’s "act of piracy" ended up netting both readers and sales.

  13. tess gerritsen

    hey D, I know it’s impossible to equate 1 illegal download with 1 lost sale. The Attributor study, part 2, will address just how those numbers relate, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

    My "future-scope" was looking at a time when book sales are predominantly digital and not physical — a time when you have a choice between 1. a digital book you pay $10 for, or 2.a digital book you can get free.

    No other choices, because print is practically nonexistent.

    Given only those two choices, consumers are going to be hard-pressed to pay for exactly the same product they can get for free.

  14. Tom Bale

    I’d like to agree with D that "a pirated copy is not a lost sale" but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. The example of being lent a book and going on to buy that author’s other works is perfectly valid. I’ve certainly done that in the past, and I suspect most people who read a lot could say the same. The big difference with electronic piracy is that, in future, someone can read that first borrowed – or pirated – work for free, and then simply acquire pirated copies of all the other books without paying a penny. In the past that option simply wasn’t available. Maybe you could find those books in the library or a second-hand shop, but generally you had to pay for them. Now a few minutes online and they’ll be yours for free. It’s a whole new landscape, and potentially a very dangerous one for authors and publishers.

  15. Bryon Quertermous

    "Given only those two choices, consumers are going to be hard-pressed to pay for exactly the same product they can get for free."

    I disagree. Let me show you why.

    Music right now is essentially all digital, at least that’s the way I and everybody else I know aquire it. Nobody buys CDs. And as far as I know, every song I’d ever want to get is available for free somewhere. So why do I still purchase music? A few things:

    1) It’s soooooooooooooooooo much easier. I go to iTunes click the song, listen to it to make sure it’s the right one, then bam it’s on my iPod. I don’t have to wade through the hundreds of version, many of which are crap or loaded with viruses, and it’s so much faster.

    2) I like to support people who produce art I enjoy that I can have more of it. And this is where I think e-book piracy will not be as big of a ding in sales as music piracy. Readers are a voracious, supportive bunch. We donate money to authors we love who have fallen on hard times. We buy books recommended to us by our favorite authors. We support independent book stores if possible.

    There is always a way to get people to pay for something they want if it’s faster or cleaner or more supportive than the free version. The music industry hasn’t crumbled because of piracy, in fact, online sales of music have exploded even as piracy has increased. I’m not saying that piracy isn’t a problem, but it’s not the world collapsing, fundemental ender of all art as we know it.

    **There’s a great bit on The PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR cartoon that my son loves to watch. The whole zoo is terrified of this sky whale and the penguins offer to capture it for free. But the king of the zoo goes to the mercenary kangaroo who offered to do it for a fee under the impression that something can’t be very good if it’s free. And I think there are many people who feel the same way.

  16. JMH

    As ebooks are taking over, and the publisher’s cut is going up to 70%, authors need to negotiate for a respectable cut of that profit. Currently the author gets 20-25% of an ebook sale. It seems to me that 75-90% is far more appropriate. If publishers don’t give a respectible cut, they will see authors jumping ship.

  17. tess gerritsen

    bryon, that will be the challenge of legitimate e-book stores, — to make it REALLY easy and cheap to download onto any device. We’ll probably see ebook prices come down to $2.99 before long. If sales volume simultaneously goes way up, that price can still sustain us as an industry. I hope.

    In the meantime, laws still have to be enforced to make pirating an e-book a risky enough proposition that the average mom won’t want to chance it.

  18. Bryon Quertermous


    That’s one of the faulty assumptions about e-books that needs to change. The paper and binding costs represent less than 10% of the physical cost of a book. The bulk of the publisher’s cost comes by way of all the things an author is going to need to set themselves apart from the self-published hoardes: editing, production (design, layout, covers, etc), marketing, advertising, distribution. These are the things that are the real cost to produce a book and they won’t change much even if you take print out of the mix.

  19. MagicMan

    That was one of the best stated expositions of the impact of piracy of ebooks I have read to date. The numbers games makes piracy and even legitimate ebooks even more scary (I’m a numbers person). when a million seller ebook returns less than six figuress to an author, the prefession (author) will no longer be, it will be a hobby for all but a select few. FYI, a number of small press publishers are forcing their authors to accept a 10% of net on digital sales. If that becomes a standard, and for small presses it may be required for survival, the return to authors is even less. I’m looking forward to your next blog.

  20. Boyd Morrison


    I posted my ebooks myself on the Amazon Kindle last year, and you are exactly correct that my goal was not to sell books on my own. I was very clear with readers that I was doing it to raise awareness about my books and show the traditional publishing industry that there is a market for my work. When Simon and Schuster decided to publish me, I was very happy to let them take on the hard work of marketing and selling my novels. I want my job to be writing books, not selling them.

    In your post, I was looking forward to hearing from the freelance editor how he expects his clients to pay him if their books are being pirated and not earning any money. What is the point of paying a freelance editor if you can’t sell your work and make a profit from it?

    I think the biggest problem with consumers’ attitudes toward piracy is that they think they’re getting something for nothing. As another commenter pointed out, that’s a fallacy. Most of these sites where you can download unlimited pirated books, songs, and movies for free are also planting malware on your computer that forces popup ads on you or sends your data to a hacker. Yes, a few of these sites are simply doing it because they want to stick it to "The Man", but you’re taking a big risk downloading that kind of software. In addition, downloading pirated media is like opening a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get. Sometimes it’s the book or song you want, and sometimes it’s the wrong one, meaning more work for you to get the right one. Or sometimes it’s half the book. Or sometimes it’s a book plus a virus. There is real value to paying for an item that has been vetted by someone else that you trust.

  21. Allison Brennan

    I agree that 1 stolen copy doesn’t necessarily equate to a lost sale. However, illegal copies are replicated over and over–ONE copy actually equals ONE HUNDRED, ONE THOUSAND, ONE MILLION copies, or however many times the ONE electronic copy is replicated. ONE copy can be read by many people at the same time.

    ONE PHYSICAL copy can be read by one person at a time. I’m all for libraries, UBS, loaning to friends. My mom and I swap books all the time. My best friend and I swap books. But we’re not copying or replicating the book endless number of times.

    I think Tess makes several very astute observations, things I’ve pondered but haven’t said as well. The more choices out there, the more chaos. Readers will want vetted books because they won’t want to do it themselves. But until everything settles out, it’s a scary time. It’s more than piracy–it’s a way of thinking. So many people think that they should have more for nothing, and it goes beyond intellectual property rights. It’s not just teenagers–it’s their parents. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with kids who tell me well, their dad got this DVD from his friend’s brother who knows a guy who works at a studio–so obviously it’s okay to take it even though the movie is still in theaters and the DVD hasn’t been released and well, there’s no jacket because it’s a special copy. They justify their thievery because studios are rich and don’t need any more money, or some other such justification. Dan Brown has sold a gazillion books, it’s okay to steal one, but they won’t say "steal" because that would be wrong. 1984 anyone? Sheesh. George Orwell is rolling over in his grave.

    My daughter used the increase in piracy and equated it with cheating in school–and how kids justify cheating (it’s too hard, my mom will kill me if I get a bad grade, no one will catch me, it’s not really wrong because I know the material, I just panic on tests, yada yada.) If parents help their kids steal books, music, videos–why are they surprised when they are caught cheating on a test?

  22. Susan


    I have absolutely no fear of self-publishing changing the face of publishing. As an author at the largest publishing house in the world, I can tell you first hand that even with the "Big Guy," you sell nothing if Barnes and Noble, Borders and the indies don’t put you on their shelves (not to mention Wal-Mart, but that’s another story). And if the "Big Guy" doesn’t get you put on the shelves (which happened to my first two books–no one had me on their shelves due to no push from the publisher), then how the heck is a self-published writer going to do it with its low-man position on the publishing totem pole?

    Yes, there are always going to be self-publishing break-outs like Rich Dad Poor Dad and The Shack, but they deserved their success. I would say 99.998% don’t–and the sales numbers will show that.

    -"Big Guy" Author

  23. Rob Gregory Browne

    I think the only way anyone could make any real money in self-published ebooks is if they already have a following as a traditional author.

    Stephen King tried it several years back and failed, but I have a feeling if he did it now, he’d be an instant bestseller. I think if you, Tess, decided to publish a book on Kindle, et al, you would undoubtedly sell a LOT of books and wind up a bestseller yourself.

    I even think those of us a little (or a lot) farther down the chain could do decent business if we published our own ebooks, but we’ve already proven to some degree that we’re publishable.

    For those who haven’t yet made a mark, who try to bypass traditional publishing and go straight to digital, I think the road would be a LOT tougher. Establishing a name is extremely tough unless you have the bucks behind you for promotion. Do you have the clout (or co-op money) to be featured on the front page of the ebook store? Doubtful. Not many of us do. Especially as ebooks become more and more mainstream.

    All that said, if you’re publishing NON-fiction, I say go for it. Non-fiction is a completely different animal than fiction, and a lot of non-fiction authors self-publish and sell books at their lectures, etc.

    Sorry, if I’m repeating anything anyone else said. I jumped straight to it after reading Tess’s post.

  24. Rob Gregory Browne

    From the article Tess points to about Dan Brown:

    Sales for digital books in the second quarter of 2009 totaled almost $37 million. That’s more than three times the total for the same three months in 2008, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

    With profits like this, I have to wonder how much of a threat piracy really is. Maybe 37 mil isn’t much, but it’s certainly a great start…

  25. L.C. McCabe

    I wanted to chime in here. I do not disagree with the fears Tess has expressed about piracy. I do however, wish to bring out a little more about the changing marketplace in publishing and how it will impact writers who are starting out or who are working to establish themselves with the public.

    Ebooks and online podcasts are methods to get directly to the consumer when your work might otherwise go unpublished. With the publishing industry hurting as much as it is in this terrible economy, publishers are taking fewer risks with debut authors. Proving that you have an audience who will purchase your work is sometimes necessary to garner a contract.

    My friend Kemble Scott is one of the three pioneering authors who had their original fiction published on . The other two writers were Tamim Ansary and Joe Quirk. All three were previously published authors, but chose to have their novels put online as ebooks on . This generated a lot of publicity. There were articles on the New York Times, LA Times, Forbes, etc. (Here’s a link to one article written last May about the launch – it is posted on Scott’s website: )

    The three pioneers also chose to set their price point low: $2 a book.

    It is low enough for people who are unfamiliar with them to not be put off by the cost.

    Scott also said that even at the low sticker price that he would make more in royalties from the royalty structure at than he did from the trade paperback from Kensington Press for this first novel.

    Scott generated enough sales and interest from the version that his book The Sower is now available in hardcover and was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller.

    (Ansary and Quirk’s novels which first appeared on as ebooks are now available in print as well.)

    The 70% royalty that was mentioned by Tess is something that is recent, but it is due to’s influence on ebooks.

    Sales from Kindle versions did not provide that same amount of profit for the authors, until just recently when decided to change their structure. See this article:

    I believe that the purchase price of ebooks on Amazon will also be influenced by, since Amazon set the price for Scott’s at $3 higher than . He didn’t discourage people from buying his book at Amazon over, but Scott didn’t make any secret that if the buyer chose the cheaper route that he was actually paid more for his work.

    Once honest consumers find alternate sites to download ebooks, they will start comparison shopping. That will drive down the prices, but if the authors and publishers make more royalties from ebooks – they won’t mind so much. There won’t be distribution or returns to worry about.

    **At the beginning of the message I introduced the topic of podcasts because another friend of mine, Seth Harwood, believed his novel was ready even though he couldn’t get an agent. He started recording his novel and uploaded it as a free podcast and developed a fanbase. Ultimately, his novel Jack Wakes Up was published by a division of Random House. After he proved himself.

    It comes down to making sure that your work is ready before you submit to agents, publishers or the public. If it isn’t ready, it will have a hard time finding an audience.

  26. jmh

    "I think the only way anyone could make any real money in self-published ebooks is if they already have a following as a traditional author."

    "Real money" is a subjective term, so depending on how you define it, you might be right or or you might be wrong. I’m currently making $1500/month on Kindle through "self-published" books. When the rate is changed from 35% to 70% on June 30th, the payment will go to $3000. Also, sales will only continue to grow. I fully expect to be making $5000/month or more within a year.

    Is that "real money?" I don’t know. It certainly won’t pay my mortage but it will pay my beer tab.

  27. Mike Dennis

    Tess, I firmly believe that a digital world awaits all of us. I wrote a couple of blogs on my website regarding the comparisons between publishing and the record business, and yes, the big hits are still being turned out by the major labels and the famous artists, but remember, this is a transitional period for them (as it is for us). Some major artists are already putting out their own material on the internet, and frankly, I don’t see that number decreasing any time soon.

    And as for the lesser bands with their self-produced and promoted albums, the marketplace will take care of them. The cream will rise to the top and the dregs will sink like a stone. The net effect is and will be more artists being heard. Same in publishing. More authors being read, with the best ones being read much more.

    Piracy? Yes, it’s a problem, a big one. But you may be sure that the record companies and the publishers are working on ways to overcome it as they slide into the digital age. I would turn your attention to the 1970s, when cassette tapes and cassette recording equipment became readily available. If you’re old enough to remember, the record companies were heading for the caves, saying that the end of the world was surely approaching. Of course, it didn’t, because they figured out a way to deal with the "problem" of people taping albums and then making copies of those tapes for their friends.

    Oprah? TV and movie deals? Don’t hold your breath.

    When was the last time Oprah featured a crime novel on her show. I don’t watch her, but from what I’m told, all her books are of the touchy-feely variety. I just can’t see her urging her housewife audience to read the latest Dennis Lehane. And as for TV and movies? The longest of long shots.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, the publishing business has evolved into a latter-day plantation system whose time has come and gone. There will still (I hope) be real books out there, because I like to hold something in my hand with a cover and binding and real pages. But they will be inextricably tied to their digital cousins, who will gradually grow until they have the seat at the head of the table.

  28. Rob Gregory Browne

    I’d have to argue with something you’ve said, Mike. That the cream will rise to the top and the dregs will sink like a stone. All too often — for reasons that completely escape me — we see the dregs rise as the cream evaporates.

  29. JMH

    Robert, these are fiction, detective thrillers. Here’s the Kindle printout (book titles ommitted) with 5 days left in the month.

    Transactions from 01/01/2010 to 01/26/2010
    Grand Total: 1330.29 USD

  30. Rob Gregory Browne

    Well, JMH, it seems you’ve proven to be the exception to the rule, and I congratulate you. That kind of money isn’t anything to sneeze at, and if other authors could do as well as you have, then my point might be completely negated.

    Unfortunately, as I said, I think you’re the exception. I do hope, however, that the future proves me wrong.

  31. Barbie

    I’ve made myself a point of NEVER commenting about book piracy again, and I won’t.

    I’ll just say this: Tess, you’re an amazing, amazing writer and I have bought every single one of your books — some of them I have two copies: one in English and one in Portuguese — because you’re an internationally published author and I can easily find/afford your books. When you live in Brazil, that doesn’t apply to every author.

  32. tess gerritsen

    wow, there have been some fascinating, mind-provoking comments on this topic. Thanks so much for everone’s thoughts. Too bad we can’t bookmark this longterm so that In about ten years, we could all check back and see how good — or how completely wrong — we were at predicting the future.

    In my lifetime, I saw the rise of cell phones, the internet, and digital versions of just about everything. I’m not clever enough to even imagine what lies ahead. I just hope that, whatever the future holds, it will be a world where storytellers are valued, where writers can still make a living, and where everyone is civilized enough to respect the creator’s gift.

    And Barbie — thanks for letting me know that Brazil likes the books too!

  33. BCB

    Tess, I hope you’re wrong. I don’t want to be a publisher. I don’t want to have to hire an editor and an art department and choose a distributor and be solely in charge of marketing. It’s bad enough knowing I’m going to have to hire an agent. I just want to write. Though I can see the merit of putting a backlist on the e-market — Pari, will you let us all know how that works out for you? And good luck!

    I also hope paper books don’t disappear. I have a tough time reading a novel on a screen without feeling like I should be editing it. It’s not a relaxing or entertaining experience for me. I have several PDF versions of novels I’ve purchased to support writer friends and I haven’t yet read any of them. Not one. (I hope none of those writers read this… sorry sorry sorry! I’m sure I’ll read them eventually.)

    As for readers being able to differentiate between good writing and bad — well, I’m a reader too. I can tell the difference. I don’t know any avid readers who can’t. I don’t think word of mouth is going to disappear just because there might be a sudden glut of books on the market. In fact, I think personal recommendations (for and against) and online reviews from trusted sources will become even more important to readers.

  34. Allison Brennan

    FYI At 11:36 tonight I got a google alert–someone posted on one of the pirate sites that they want to read my book ORIGINAL SIN that was just released today and hoped that someone would post it. Two more people piped up that they want it as well.

  35. Seth Harwood


    I have to ask you this:
    Guys, J.D.,

    Great post here! As you might expect, my thoughts are much more in line with J.D.’s than with Tess’s.
    What are you trying to accomplish with this blog? Are you trying to build your platform of readers/fans or are you trying to reach out to other writers on the web and network with them. While I love talking with writers and networking, I firmly believe that it’s the first of these two options that’s going to ultimately sell books.
    Writers will chip in and help out with some book buying, but if you truly want to make a living by writing, you need to connect with readers. And they’re out there, on the web. And they will buy your book.
    BUT, they don’t much care what you think of e-publishing, e-books, writing, or publishing in general. They want to try out your actual fiction/non-fiction, the book that you plan on selling. In a rational world, that’s the writing you spend most of your time on, right?
    So, if you want to market yourself on the web (sorry, but it is now a necessity to publishing) then piracy goes out the window and you’re best off finding a way to get your good fiction to people who will give it a shot.
    Next question becomes: what are the best ways to do that?
    Then you go out and start trying them.


  36. Julie Lomoe

    Great post, and lots of good feedback as well. Between the "traditionally published" author and the realm of e-books lies the enormous realm of self-published books. (I’d say "print on demand," but that term is confusing because many "traditional" publishers use that technology.) When available onlilne, these hold the promise of higher royalties than do standard publishing contracts.

    All in all, this discussion has helped convince me I’d better hurry up and upload my books to Kindle and the others. My POD publisher tells me I have the right to do so, so time’s a-wasting.

    Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso

  37. Richard S. Wheeler

    I’ve reached the conclusion that the traditional publishing house brands will become more valuable, not less, as the world is swamped with ebooks that are largely unedited. What traditional publishers offer is an intensive selection process, editing, revision, copyediting, able proofreading, and attractive cover design intended to maximize sales. Traditional publishers also work out marketing and promotion for each title. In short, the publishers’ selectiveness and services, so loathed by inexperienced writers, will eventually add to the value of their "brand" in this new word of uninhibited electronic publishing. Viking, or Doubleday, or Macmillan will be safe havens for bewildered readers, a known brand producing a book of known quality. I think the electronic revolution will greatly increase the value of traditional publishing houses after the dust settles a bit.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *