Negotiating Rights And Learning From Old School Publishing

This Friday I’m recommending two blog posts by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, editor, and publisher. I came across both because I’m heading to a conference focused on the business aspects of being an author, and she’s one of the presenters.

Her blog contains a wealth of information for authors.

For example, in Business Musings: Pulphouse, Alternate History, & the Modern Era, Rusch talks about launching a quarterly hardback magazine with her husband in the pre-Internet, pre-ebook days when publishers had to pay for print runs and sell mainly through book sellers.

She covers what worked well–such as creating an Issue Zero with a striking cover and blank pages to send to authors when asking them to submit stories–and the many, many mistakes made.

One mistake involved not having a plan to deal with the 90-120 day lag time between paying for the costs to publish and collecting revenue. Another was underpricing the publication.

While much has changed in the publishing world since then, Rusch shows how the lessons learned apply to authors today.

In Business Musings: My Day in Negotiation, Rusch discusses negotiating rights, including for television deals, and why she prefers to do so herself rather than relying on an agent.

If, like me, you think it’ll be quite a long time, if ever, before you’ll need to deal with offers for movie or television rights, this is the right time to read the advice.

In fact, it’s probably the best time because you can consider it and learn more before you’re in the middle of a discussion. Plus, when there’s an offer on the table, it can be hard to get past your excitement and be objective about the terms of the deal.

Business Musings: My Day in Negotiation

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

Publishing Your Book On Kobo

There are many platforms on which you can self publish your novel as an ebook. I publish on Amazon (for Kindle), Kobo, iBooks. GooglePlay, and Nook.

Whenever I tell people that, though, the next question, at least in the U.S., usually is “What is Kobo?”

Kobo eReaders and Reach

With apologies to Kobo (as no one likes to name the competition), I sometimes tell non-writing friends in the U.S. that it’s Kindle in Canada. But that’s not quite true.

Kobo sells books all over the world. After publishing on Kobo, I sold books in countries I was unfamiliar with before that, such as Wallis & Futuna.

The map to the right shows the countries where Kobo ebooks in my Awakening series have been bought.

Books for Kobo can be read on Kobo ereaders or on Kobo apps, which are listed on Kobo’s website.

The Pluses of Kobo

There are lots of reasons to love Kobo.

Books Books Books: Unlike Amazon, Kobo sells only books and ereaders. No one goes to Kobo to buy a HEPA air filter or a ceiling fan or a pair of sneakers. If someone is on Kobo’s website, it’s to buy books. I suspect that influences the next two pluses.

Kobo readers review more books. On Amazon, roughly .01% of readers who bought The Awakening reviewed it. If I count not only sales but the tens of thousands of free downloads, the ratio is crazy low.

On Kobo, in contrast, over 40% of those who bought The Awakening reviewed it.

I also get a higher read through rate on Kobo. I particularly notice this with The Awakening (Book 1) being free. Everything I’ve read and my own experience says that on Kindle, many many free books are downloaded and never read. Based on the read through rate, Kobo readers appear far more likely to read a free book and, if they like it, to buy the next book.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the read through rate is the percentage of people who buy Book 2 in a series after reading Book 1. While you can’t tell exactly who bought, you can see the numbers. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say over the last three months you sold 100 of Book 1 and 50 of Book 2. That would be a read through rate of 50%.

Royalties: As of this writing, for books above $9.99, the royalties are more favorable to authors on Kobo. Most platforms pay a lower royalty (usually around 30%) for books under $2.99 and 65% or 70% on books above $2.99, but drop the royalty rate if the sale price exceeds $9.99.

Kobo doesn’t do that. The percentage remains the same for all books at $2.99 and up.

This is very helpful for box sets. If you have a 7-book series you’re selling as a bundle or box set for $12.99, your royalty would still be 70% on Kobo rather than dropping to a lower percentage.

Promotion: Kobo allows you to offer your ebook free. While it seems counterintuitive, if you have a series, providing your first book free can be a good way to draw readers in, resulting in higher earnings overall. (I’ve had my best three sales months ever this year after switching The Awakening to free.) And even if the earnings are the same, you’ve expanded your reader base.

Amazon will only list your ebook free to price match other platforms. Occasionally this happens automatically, but often you need to request it, and the response always includes a reminder that Amazon is not obligated to let you offer the book free.

Kobo also has on its dashboard options for promotions, including some priced as low as $5. I don’t see huge sales spikes on the days of these promotions, but they help sales for a long time, sometimes for a month or more.

Technology: Kobo’s technology is easy to use. Once you create an account, which is free, you are walked through five simple steps to upload your book. Kobo accepts epub files—the same sort of file accepted by all platforms I’ve used except Amazon. (Amazon requires a mobi file.)

Kobo sales data is easy to see and read. The dashboard, which is where you see your sales information, shows your dollars earned and books sold for the current month and for all time. You can use drop down menus to filter by book.

Author Support: Kobo sends a monthly newsletter with tips for writers. Kobo also has a podcast for authors and very helpful support via email.

Downsides of Kobo (But Not Really)

The only downside of Kobo that I can think of is not intrinsic to Kobo. It’s that Amazon offers many incentives to authors to sell their ebooks exclusively for Kindle. As this is a post about Kobo, I won’t go into those pluses here.

The concern with being exclusive to Amazon is that it’s putting all your eggs in one basket. If you’re working a day job you’re happy with or have another career you enjoy and don’t want to leave, that may be fine.

If you’re striving to earn your living by writing, that’s a tougher call. On the one hand, some authors earn monthly royalties I only dream of through being exclusive to Amazon.

On the other, should Amazon change their incentives or get rid of certain programs completely, those authors could see their earnings drop precipitously. They’d adapt I’m sure, but it would be a challenge. To me, it would be like being a freelancer with only one client. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s important to be aware of the risk.

I have my series wide–i.e., I published it on various platforms–and have other ebooks exclusive to Kindle. To give you an idea of earnings per platform, for this year, here’s how my royalties break down into percentages:

1.5% CreateSpace (paperbacks)

3% GooglePlay

6.5% Kobo

7% Audible (audio books)

10.5% Barnes & Noble (Nook)

11.5% Apple (iBooks)

60% Amazon (Kindle)

Keep in mind that your breakdown might be completely different. For me, obviously Amazon is the largest part of what my books earn. (It’s actually 68.5, as CreateSpace and Audible are Amazon-related companies). But I would definitely miss the rest. And should Amazon suddenly change things up, I haven’t cut into all my income.

Questions about Kobo or going wide? Please post them in the comments.

Until Friday—


L.M. Lilly

P.S. After writing this post, I came across more great information on Kobo straight from the Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations, Mark Lefebvre. See Friday’s appropriately-titled recommendation More On Kobo if you want to know more.

The Death Of eBooks Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

You may have heard recent news reports about ebook sales dropping and print sales increasing. As a reader, this likely makes little difference to how you prefer to read (or listen) to books. I read about half ebooks and half paper books depending on whether I’m traveling, how quickly I want to get a book I’m interested in, and whether one of my friends who buys favorite authors’ book in hardback passes them on to me.

As authors, though, how much time and effort we put into marketing print books versus paper books might be affected by reports about ebook sales. For that reason, this Friday I recommend reading Nate Hoffelder’s Digital Reader post. In it, Nate explains why these reports about ebook sales dropping keep appearing, and why the figures, though accurate, are misleading because they leave out a large number of ebook sales.

Those missing sales include, as just one example, any ebook sold by an independent author who publishes without an ISBN. Amazon, among other ebook publishing platforms, does not require an ISBN for ebooks. There are over 5 million ebooks on Amazon, so if even a fraction are published without ISBNs, that significantly skews the figures.

For other reasons results regarding ebook sales are skewed, read Nate’s article here.

Until Sunday–


L.M. Lilly

On Starting Your Own Small Press

Print-on-demand (or POD) publishing has made it far easier for authors to publish their own work. As I wrote about last Sunday in The Downsides Of Print On Demand Publishing, however, there are some drawbacks.

Also, some authors plan to publish not only multiple titles of their own, but to collaborate with others. That can make it more worthwhile to take a different approach to publishing.

For any of these reasons, or simply for the sake of comparison, you may want to learn more about adapting the methods of traditional print publishing for yourself. A great place to start is the following post from Joanna Penn:

From Indie Author To Small Press. Print Books, ISBNs, Branding And More

Have a great weekend.

Until Sunday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on print-on-demand publishing, check out my post Using KDP To Self Publish A Paperback.

On Getting A Traditional Publishing Deal

I’ve had articles, short stories, and poems published traditionally, but a lot of my posts focus on self-publishing, as that’s how I’ve published my novels.

Because of that, I haven’t kept up as well as I’d like with current trends and practices of traditional publishers. To try to remedy that, I checked out this episode of the Self-Publishing Formula.

I hope you’ll find it as interesting and helpful as I did.

SPF-050 How to Land a Publishing Deal – with Alex Clarke, Headline Publishing



L.M. Lilly

One Author’s Challenges With Assisted Publishing

This Friday I recommend a post by an author on her experience with assisted publishing. As I wrote about in Do You Need A Publisher, Part 1, these types of publishing services assist with the tasks authors who self-publish do on their own, such as uploading books to different platforms, finding a cover designer, and editing. Some charge a flat up front fee and others get paid through a percentage of royalties.

Author Maggie Cammiss thought this sounded like a reasonable deal when offered by a division of the traditional publisher who’d published the first novel in her series. Some challenges arose, though, with the paperback edition that led her to wonder.

Read about her experience here:

Getting Back on the Horse

See you again Sunday, when I’ll talk about creating time to write as you manage your first profession.


L. M. Lilly

Do You Need A Publisher, Part 3: Money

Mary Higgins Clark was paid a $64 million advance for a five-book deal. The average advance for a first novel, however, is generally between $5,000 to $15,000. Most novelists, including published ones, don’t make a living writing. They supplement with other work, often as teachers of writing, speakers, editors, or non-fiction writers. Others write on the side and earn most of their money in another profession.

In Do You Need A Publisher (Part 1), I talked about the factors that might affect whether you pursue a traditional publishing deal or publish your work yourself. Those factors include:

  • a desire for prestige and recognition, which I talked about last week
  •  a desire to earn money
  • a desire for control over your work
  • a desire to run a business, and
  • what type of book you’re writing

You can make money no matter how you publish, but here are some differences in what you’re likely to earn and how it may affect your career:

The Big 5 Publishers

The authors who make the most money up front are the household names, such as Mary Higgins Clark, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King. Most authors in this league have been writing and selling novels for decades, but sometimes a debut novel will be bought for a six or seven figure advance. The Big 5 are the publishers that can pay these types of advances. An advance means the author is paid before the book is published. If the book earns enough in royalties to repay the advance, the author is then paid royalties as well. The upsides of this type of deal are obvious. Before the book goes to press, you have a good chunk of money in your pocket.

On the downside, the need for the book to earn back the advance is a lot of pressure. If it doesn’t happen, that may tank the chances of a contract for later books. More significant for most new writers is that the odds against landing a deal with a large publisher are near zero. First, you’ll need to spend time and effort trying to find a literary agent to represent you before the Big 5 will consider your work. Second, even through literary agents, the Big 5 most often enter contracts with established authors.

Given the potential large payoff, though, if you think your book will fit one of these publishers, don’t be dissuaded by the odds. Not only is there a shot at a large advance and the publicity and marketing that comes with it, much of what you do to pursue your goal will help you if you later decide to try another route. For instance, crafting a compelling query letter to agents can also help you write queries to publishers or write marketing copy if you self-publish.

Small and medium-sized publishers

Small to medium-sized publishers usually offer advances between a few thousand dollars and $45,000, though some very small presses may offer no advance. The financial upsides include possible up front money and the fact that the publisher pays the publishing costs, such as cover art and editing. The publisher also may help market and publicize the book, and most bookstores are more willing to carry a traditionally-published book than a self-published one.

The downsides include that the author has limited or no control over many factors that affect a book’s sales, such as the quality of cover art, editorial services, marketing copy, where and when the book is advertised, and the price. Also, the size of the advance usually matches the marketing budget. A $5,000 marketing budget won’t go very far, and you’ll likely have lost control of your work and rights that might help you earn more money.

One of my income streams is from the audiobook editions of the first three books in my Awakening series. I did a royalty-share deal with the producer/narrators, and the books were already written, so creating the audiobooks was a no brainer. If you sign a contract granting those rights to a publisher, though, you no longer have that option, and the publisher may not be obligated to produce audiobooks. Finally, royalties from a publisher range from 10-25% of the purchase price, while when you self-publish, your royalties range from 30-70% of the book’s price.

Publishers that charge the author/vanity presses

If the fee is reasonable and you’d rather spend money than invest time in publishing your own work, you might be the lucky one-in-a-million author able to earn money by paying a company to publish. You need to consider, though, how much you’re paying compared to how many books you’re likely to sell, keeping in mind that these types of companies, no matter what they say about marketing or publicity, rarely do much to sell your book. Publishers that pay the author an advance and hope to earn it back and then some through book sales have an incentive to see that your book sells. Companies you pay do not. They are making money off of you.

For that reason, in my view, it’s a very long shot that you’ll make money paying a company to publish your work. You’re also risking paying for services that will be inferior to what you could have contracted for yourself. The only time I suggest these types of companies is if:

(a) the fee is not that much more than you would spend if you found the services you need yourself;

(b) you get a referral from someone whose books are selling well and who is earning more than she or he spent;

(c) the person who referred you is selling the same type of book you wrote; and

(d) that author’s books are well-edited (no typos, good story arc) and have professional-looking covers that fit the books’ genre.


Some authors earn an excellent living by publishing multiple books themselves, by self-publishing and later being picked up by traditional publishers (as happened with The Martian), or by some combination of the two. A few authors that appear to have done quite well self-publishing include Hugh Howey, J.F. Penn, and Melissa Foster. Others earn enough to write full-time or have a decent side stream of income. Others, usually those who publish only one or two books and devote little time or money to marketing, spend more on self-publishing than they earn.

On the upside, as noted, indies earn a much larger share of royalties, particularly on ebooks, than do traditionally-published authors. That means you can generally price your books lower to gain readers while earning the same amount in royalties or more per book than traditional authors do. Indies also retain all their rights and have control over the covers, marketing, editing, etc.

The downside of indie publishing is that the indie must pay the publication costs, which range anywhere from zero (as all aspects can be handled by the author) to a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. In addition, if you plan to market your book through paid advertising, you pay for that as well.

The Short Version

To pull this all together, the Big 5 offer the biggest potential for large advances and stellar advertising and marketing, indie/self-publishing offers great potential earnings if you’re in it for the long haul, and the likely financial rewards of publishing with small/medium publishers vary widely depending upon the advance offered and the publisher’s marketing budget. If you publish with a small or medium-sized publisher or you self-publish, a lot of your success will depend on how much time, effort, and sometimes money you are personally willing to invest. As for publishers who charge you, there may be some authors out there who made money that way, but in my opinion, it’s a buyer-beware proposition.

Stay tuned for posts on the other factors that go into choosing a publishing path.

Until then, best wishes for a productive, peaceful week.

L. M. Lilly