Thursday, 10 March 2016
Nielsen Book Ratings and Forced Hands
This month has come with several new revelations. Revelation delivery is usually reserved for angels. It must be a union shop or something. These shipments usually are accompanied by destruction or at the very least several people turning into salt. Thankfully my revelations were delivered by the outsourced delivery service, so it was with slightly less destruction. Not that this was in any way easy and without some serious soul searching, and anger.
It turns out that all the stuff we writers have learned by attending conferences and learning how to “break” into the publishing world has missed a very significant tool. This tool is called the Nielsen Book Ratings. Yes, the same metric that brought you the Kardashians and petulant screaming Irish chefs is firmly in control of what gets published. In the same breath, Agents and dominant Publishing houses are bemoaning the state of the industry.
We have all heard, or read, the responses from Literary Agents. "Due to the shrinking reading, demographic traditional publishing houses are less inclined to take risks with new authors or lesser artists." Really? So it rained last year, and the wheat crop failed, so you decide not to plant another one? We creative, typing monkeys are what you people eat. So you’re not going to encourage us to keep writing? If authors are not nurtured why would we they feel any loyalty to stay with a house? It’s business. You made your percentage from my effort and applied the skills you were compensated for, and now I am in the Nielsen Book Rating top one hundred; so piss off. JK Rowling dumped her publisher and while I don’t know the reason for certain it does give me pause to wonder.
I do know one famous author who has moved to a smaller press for his series books, and the new titles he is publishing. He has mastered his craft and doesn’t need the editorial help. He was on the NYT bestseller list a few times over the years so is name is out there. Why should he choose to subject himself to the influence of companies driven by an accountant metric that brought us such wonderful enriched TV like Bay Watch!
The huge media giants decide what makes main stream TV. Meanwhile, Show Case tops the charts with “Sons Of Anarchy” and the Sci-Fi channel makes a killing with “The Expanse”. So if these media giants see this with TV based using an outdated and stupid metric why would they apply it to print? More to the point, why has not one single agent or agent representative brought this up as a point during a writers class at one of the many conferences I attended or spoke at? I’ve listened to hours of material about making a killer thirty-second elevator pitch, creating a foundation of readers, and the ‘secret’ bump to get you to the top of the slush pile. ‘I’ve been offered representation and wanted to give… ‘
Perhaps it is because they are close to the fire and know if they let the cat out of the bag that unless your first book is a blockbusting bestseller you’re in and done at one! Faced with this reality it is easy to see why putting in the amount of work to school a new author past all the pitfalls and issues that may come up is daunting. It also explains my disappointment with the last several mainstream titles I bought and read. The Border by Robert McCammon was the only book I enjoyed reading in the previous year.
I was lucky enough to have an agent that follows me on Twitter point this out a few weeks ago. Now I could point out errors and omissions in the Nielsen system, but, this would just look like sour grapes. It isn’t the reporting system that I have issue with. It is the idea of 'mainstream', and writing to the audience desires. If you have never tried Red Wine how do you know what you like? If all you have been exposed to is the White variety and the rating system only has Whites, does a Red go to market under this system? No, it does not! The profit margin is closely watched by the accounting department and not the creative editorial one. If you need a greater example swipe to your music collection. Is it 'MAINSTREAM'? Is it one or two styles? No it probably is as varied as you and your moods. I have twenty thousand songs, all purchased, from so called 'mainstream' to Jim Carrol and the Dropkick Murphys. How many albums did the Jim Carrol Band sell? Probably not enough ever to make what his book The Basket Ball Diaries made in a week! This preoccupation of some with chasing fancy bits of paper with pictures on it created the Indie music industry and then had to play catch up, buying Indie labels, to stay relevant. These same suits, and those that stupidly play their game are making the same mistakes all over again!
So while the big houses complain about the industry changing while refusing to see the hand they play in these changes. Fanning the fires of their destruction while the fast moving formats adapt and overcome. The publishing industry will not be the same story arc as the music industry. They say Caesar played the violin as Rome burned. Do we hear the same tune under the incessant whining of those that profit from our arthritic fingers and denied social encounters because we made the decision that; “This Day We Write!”
So with this scathing blog I have forced myself into a corner. I have let the cat out of the bag for many of you that may be unaware of this system. If you currently have representation you might want to insure it fits with your life path. If your first ride on the bull isn’t incredible you will have to pen name your next attempt! I may have to put my money where my mouth is as well. I promised you a sequel. I have written you a sequel. I have, with help, edited you all a great sequel. One that is far better than the first. I have a multi-country fan base so the traditional method of publishing means that my Russian fans have to pay a days wages to read it. This isn’t progressive or fair. So perhaps I price it out as 2.99 and let everyone who wants to enjoy a good story do just that!! Stay tuned!!
POSTBLOG (I couldn't find this as a word. Postscript is but this is more accurate! Hey, Chicago Book Of Styles... Decision please?
My wise mother always said when you write an angry letter you should 'sit on it' for twenty-four hours and then reread it. So I did this with the Blog. I awoke even more pissed off at this situation than when I went to bed. After reading this again I have managed to put this into perspective. While I genuinely feel for those of you struggling to create and imagine wonderful stories it is the world we find ourselves in. So while my decision to adopt the; "Not my circus, not my monkeys" mindset it is my hope that in reading this you are a little more prepared. I also looked over my fan base and what the actual cost would be for many to enjoy my newest effort. Too many of my fans and followers live in areas that are less affluent than America and Canada. I am not in the position that I have to earn money off my writing to eat. But, for some on my FaceBook Author Page that actually may be the decision. So I am going to publish this sequel with Amazon. It will be available as a paperback and eBook sometime before summer. In doing this I know Scott D. Covey will be blacklisted. But, I believe the industry that is forcing my hand is going to burn into obscurity anyway. Finally, I get to keep my promise to give as many people a sequel as I can.
I have created an author page and it is here: Scott D. Covey
In closing I want to publicly thank all my test readers. Jason, Shawn, Cathy, Angela, Tim, Dimitri, Sergei, and Elliot (AKA RIZ).
A very special thanks to a friend with a heart only small when compared to his intelligence. This option was only made possible by his hard hours of editorial work. Jay I am in your debt and know many will read this that wouldn't have been able to at a $9.99 kindle price point! Further all profits will be forwarded to a worthy cause to help education or reading in parts of the world that benefited from the low price point option.
Penguin Random House £409.9m (23.4%) ...
Hachette Livre (UK) £287.9m (16.4%) ...
HarperCollins £132.3m (7.6%) ...
Pan Macmillan £57.3m (3.3%) ...
I send you a very special Vancouver Alex salute..........................