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June 26, 2014 6:04 AM   Subscribe

Tony Horwitz: I was a digital bestseller! [NYT] It netted me nothing!
David Gaughran: No, you weren't. (Your publisher duped you and you're stretching the truth.)
Tony Horwitz: OK, fine.

Previously: Amazon v. Hachette. Currently: Salon weighs in. (Gaughran not amused.)
posted by psoas (38 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
He ends with what I thought a good observation in his response:

Lastly, what the response to my op-ed has brought home to me is the class and status and perhaps age divide among writers. Older (I’m 56) writers like me who have had careers in print journalism and publishing mourn that industry’s decline and feel disoriented in the world of e-everything. Those who’ve been shut out by the old media and publishing, and/or view it as stale and elitist and exclusionary, take some joy in the demise of the ancien regime and welcome the more open and free-for-all world of digital.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on June 26 [9 favorites]


Gaughran is "not amused" as you put it in part because the author of the Salon piece -- Laura Miller -- chooses not to disclose the fact that she has a book published by Hachette.
posted by ChrisR at 6:37 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


daaaaamn , gaughran is on point!
posted by rebent at 7:01 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Several follow-up pieces, like this one from Gawker, didn’t bother fact-checking
Wait a minute here, let me get this straight: You're telling me Gawker didn't fact-check?!
posted by Flunkie at 7:08 AM on June 26 [12 favorites]


Has Gawker ever fact-hecked?
posted by Dip Flash at 7:15 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


Laura Miller says she is quitting Amazon and now "I buy used print books from AbeBooks ".. ABE is owned by Amazon. They own GoodReads. Own a part of LibraryThing. Amazon is the octopus, the Spanish Inquisition no one expects.
posted by stbalbach at 7:17 AM on June 26 [8 favorites]


Often they have fact-hecked, rarely have they fact-checked.
posted by mephron at 7:18 AM on June 26 [6 favorites]


and now "I buy used print books from AbeBooks "

Ensuring that no money at all goes to the writer. Brilliant!
posted by yoink at 7:21 AM on June 26 [15 favorites]


Edit window be damned, there's no way I'd correct such an inadvertently true typo.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:21 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


so what you're saying is i don't have to shop around my nonfiction how to book about sasquatch murder
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:23 AM on June 26 [4 favorites]


Byliner's promotional team did a great job of spamming my inbox, ensuring a quick UNSUBSCRIBE.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:24 AM on June 26


Gaughran makes the good point that winning an Amazon sub-sub-category doesn't mean much, but doesn't address Horwitz's claim that his book was in the top 25 among all Kindle Singles, an entire format of book. Gaughran writes that Horwitz's top overall rank in the Kindle Store was 2,345. By comparison, Gaughran mentions a book about beer that was the #1 Kindle Single and #107 in the Kindle Store overall. Given that ratio, it seems reasonable to believe Horwitz when he says his book was one of the top 25 Kindle Singles. In which case, Horwitz's book really was a bestseller, right? We don't say somebody who was #10 on the New York Times hardcover list isn't "really" a best seller because they only ranked high on a single format that tends not to sell as well as others.

I say advantage Horwitz. I didn't know you could get to the top 25 of the entire Kindle Single list selling 50 copies a day, and that's useful information for authors who want a realistic assessment of how many writers are making good money in that format.
posted by escabeche at 7:41 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but "I was a bestseller and didn't make much money" isn't a very insightful statement if "bestseller" doesn't actually mean "sells a lot".
posted by smackfu at 7:52 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


At this point I called my literary agent, whom I’d foolishly failed to involve in the project.

I begin to see the origins of your problem....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:53 AM on June 26 [7 favorites]


Yeah, but "I was a bestseller and didn't make much money" isn't a very insightful statement if "bestseller" doesn't actually mean "sells a lot".

The fact that "bestseller doesn't actually mean sells a lot" is precisely the valuable insight we can gain from this story. Kindle Singles are cheap and I would have thought that there were plenty of people racking up tens of thousands of sales. Based on this article, I'm not sure how true that is.
posted by escabeche at 7:58 AM on June 26


So it's all about the money?
posted by ReeMonster at 7:58 AM on June 26


I too miss the good old days of journalism when after the dreadful non-disclosures from Miller and Kohn they would have had the decency to resign.
posted by fullerine at 8:07 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but "I was a bestseller and didn't make much money" isn't a very insightful statement if "bestseller" doesn't actually mean "sells a lot".

For the record, bestseller (NYT style) doesn't mean much. It measures velocity of volume in a single 7 day period, and it only watches books that publishers tell it to watch. If your book sells 2500 copies in one week in January and never sells another again, you could be a #1 NYT bestseller.

If your publisher doesn't tell them to watch, you won't list. Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why was regularly outselling everything in YA, but because it wasn't supposed to be a bestseller, the NYT was never told to track it. It finally listed more than a year after it came out, once the publisher was like, oh hey, pay attention to this book!

USA Today Bestseller is a better gauge, because they actually track book sales. If you're on the USA Today list, then there's gold in them thar books. If you hit both, you're making a lot of money and your publisher paid a shitton of marketing to make it happen.
posted by headspace at 8:14 AM on June 26 [7 favorites]


Thanks for posting David Gaughran's piece. That was a good read.

I'm dismissive of self-publishing. I've seen a lot of people tout themselves as "published" when (1) they were self-published, and (2) on inspection, their work doesn't merit any kind of publication at all. It's like calling yourself a Harvard graduate when really, what you did was a program at the open-enrollment Harvard Extension School. There are selection processes implied in the term you're using; and not only did you not bother with them, you also didn't gain the improvement that comes with grinding through them. If 80 percent of published work is crap, that number becomes an unwieldy 99.99 percent with self-publishing.

Having said that, I've been turned around a little by the ebook photography gems I've found at Craft & Vision. I got introduced to David duChemin through his traditionally published print work—which I have to maintain, is miles better than his ebook output. But I've bought a number of the ebooks and they really do deliver: great design, good content, fantastic value. I won't deny that the 0.01 percent of self-published stuff truly can be almost (the typos kill me) as good as the 20 percent on bookshelves.
posted by cribcage at 8:17 AM on June 26


escabeche: Gaughran makes the good point that winning an Amazon sub-sub-category doesn't mean much, but doesn't address Horwitz's claim that his book was in the top 25 among all Kindle Singles, an entire format of book.

Which is just a meaningless blue ribbon. Selling ONE book in a category where your competitors sold none yields... something south of a windfall fortune in book sales.

escabeche: The fact that "bestseller doesn't actually mean sells a lot" is precisely the valuable insight we can gain from this story.

No. No. No. "The author of the original piece had his facts wrong, or else openly lied, and that pulls the rug out from under his arguments completely" is the "valuable insight". "A small number of sales times a small price per item is not a lot of money" is not a valuable insight.

"Bestseller" only implies $$$ when it's in a broad, quasi-capitalist market. Bestsellers in the USSR netted next to nothing for their authors.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:33 AM on June 26


ReeMonster: So it's all about the money?

For professionals trying to make a living, yes, money is rather important.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:35 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Kindle Singles are cheap and I would have thought that there were plenty of people racking up tens of thousands of sales.

Kindle Singles are cheap but they are not exactly a value. Most are $2.99, and you get 50-75 pages of content. Compare to a typical novel-length Kindle paperback at $4.99, or the plethora of self-published stuff for $0.99.

I've bought plenty of Kindle books, but never a Kindle Single.
posted by smackfu at 8:37 AM on June 26


The author of the original piece had his facts wrong, or else openly lied

Gaughran doesn't say that; where are you getting it?
posted by escabeche at 8:39 AM on June 26


I'm dismissive of self-publishing. I've seen a lot of people tout themselves as "published" when (1) they were self-published, and (2) on inspection, their work doesn't merit any kind of publication at all.

People overestimate how hard it is to get published. Coming from the fitness/health writing niche, almost anyone who is willing to make something up about something trendy can get a book deal with a publisher. I turned the one I was offered down because I didn't want to make that my career, but based on the packages I get regularly from publishers that contain books along the lines of 50 Low Carb Vegan Paleo Recipes For People With Brown Hair, a lot of people take the deals.

And I've known some of these people and seen them quit jobs to work on books that end up not really leading them anywhere. Digital makes it hard to invest a lot of time into your writing since you usually don't get paid up front, but it's less risky.
posted by melissam at 8:43 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


escabeche : The author of the original piece had his facts wrong, or else openly lied

Gaughran doesn't say that; where are you getting it?


Gaughran certainly does point out that Tony Horwitz had his facts wrong. There are only two possibilities: he genuinely tried to get his facts right and failed, or he made them up.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:50 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


Horwitz says that his book was one of the 25 best-selling Kindle Singles and that his book occasionally hit #1 in a small subsubcategory. Gaughran doesn't dispute the former fact (or even mention it) and says the second isn't relevant (on which point I agree with Gaughran.) But there's no dispute between the two about what actually happened, as far as I can see.
posted by escabeche at 8:59 AM on June 26


Gaughran doesn't say that; where are you getting it?

Gaughran says exactly that, over and over again:
the key “fact” in Horwitz’s tale of woe doesn’t hold up to scrutiny
In other words, Boom did okay, and sold reasonably consistently for a few months, but was no bestseller.
Boom wasn’t actually a bestseller by any definition
This is the second time in five months we’ve had a fake bestseller story.
posted by yoink at 9:01 AM on June 26 [1 favorite]


OK, you're right -- Gaughran does say that Horwitz has his facts wrong, but Gaughran is incorrect, and maybe meant to say something else. I think where he got confused is that he thinks Horwitz is basing his claim on being the #1 "Page-turning narrative", while in fact his claim rests on being on the Kindle Single bestseller list. But as far as I can see there is no factual disagreement between Horwitz's story and Gaughran's.

(Also, I was wrong to take Gaughran at his word that "Page-turning narratives" are one of Amazon's "extremely granular subcategories"; actually, it's one of the 12 top-level categories of Kindle Singles. Who knew?)
posted by escabeche at 9:13 AM on June 26


I must have missed the part where it was verified that Horwitz's book was in fact on the "Kindle Single" bestseller list? I though that was just speculation by escabeche?
posted by rebent at 9:50 AM on June 26


Horwitz says so explicitly:

"In the sales rankings on Amazon for Kindle Singles, “Boom” broke the top 25, and almost all the titles ahead of it were fiction"

and I see no reason to doubt him.
posted by escabeche at 9:55 AM on June 26


I'm side-eyeing this complaint from an author who got a $15,000 advance PLUS EXPENSES.
posted by bq at 10:06 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


If 80 percent of published work is crap, that number becomes an unwieldy 99.99 percent with self-publishing.

Perhaps that number holds true if you factor in the sheer volume of self-published works, but there's no guarantee that anything published by the Big 5 is any better. There might have been halcyon days in the past where quality was everything, but those days are long gone. It's all about the profit now. Simon & Schuster's recent deal for a One Direction fanfic is proof enough of that.
posted by jessian at 11:27 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Has Gawker ever fact-checked?

Has the New York Times done any fact-checking since they warned us of the WMDs in Iraq? Don't blame the Poster Child for Bad Internet Media for following in the footsteps of the Paper of Record.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:04 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]


For professionals trying to make a living, yes, money is rather important.

Which is why it's critical that you properly understand the markets in which you're selling your goods and services...

Horwitz writes: "Clearly, I wasn’t savvy about digital reality..." Indeed. And it would behoove him to now get savvy, because his future as a writer depends on him understanding how the publishing market now works. It doesn't work like it did before. And it never again will.
posted by chasing at 12:33 PM on June 26 [1 favorite]


escabeche : and I see no reason to doubt him.

The fact that he has seriously misrepresented his book's performance is not a reason to doubt his claims about his book's performance? OK, whatever.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:51 PM on June 26


but there's no guarantee that anything published by the Big 5 is any better.

There's also no guarantee that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow but that's still the way to bet. The average quality of a book published by an actual honest-to-god publishing house is significantly higher than the average book not published by such an entity. If someone wants to self-publish, hey, more power to them but lets not kid ourselves; the reason most people's books are rejected by publishing houses is because their books are craptacular.
posted by Justinian at 6:11 PM on June 27


The average quality of a book published by an actual honest-to-god publishing house is significantly higher than the average book not published by such an entity.

I don't see how there's any way for a person to know this.

If someone wants to self-publish, hey, more power to them but lets not kid ourselves; the reason most people's books are rejected by publishing houses is because their books are craptacular.

Publishing houses reject books for far more reasons than simply craptacular writing. And publishing houses (especially the "Big 5") print tons of craptacular writing every year - stuff that is destined to be turned over for remainder &/or pulping probably by the end of one season. It's not about quality of writing - it's about what will sell.

Every major publisher rep I ever met with in over 20 years of bookselling was clear and upfront about this - often at pains to note that they did not agree with it personally, and delighted when they could recommend a book that was actually "worth reading".
posted by jammy at 7:12 AM on June 29


cribcage: "It's like calling yourself a Harvard graduate when really, what you did was a program at the open-enrollment Harvard Extension School."

Now there was a thread.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:39 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


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