What Stace had to say on Thursday, September 10th, 2009
The way the cookie crumbles

First, I have some extremely exciting news, for me at least. My agent informed me a couple of weeks back that we’ve sold audio rights to the first three Downside books (Unholy Ghosts, Unholy Magic, and City of Ghosts) to Blackstone Audiobooks! They produce unabridged audiobooks in a variety of genres, and my mom was all excited because she has a bunch of their books–they also handle the Elizabeth Peters novels, among thousands of others, and I am squeeing all over the place at the idea that my books will actually be available in this format. I cannot WAIT to hear them. And yes, I giggle a little at the thought of hearing all the fuckwords and Downspeech, because I’m immature that way. But still, this is a huge deal for me and I’m totally excited.

Also, I have video of my reading of Chapter Two of UNHOLY GHOSTS at Dragon*Con; I’m trying to edit it down at the moment so you guys don’t have to sit through four minutes of me skimming the chapter and chitchatting before I get down to reading, and trying to separate the Q&A after into manageable chunks. Also, I’ll be getting videos of some of my panels soon, and will be working to edit those down as well. It will all be posted on the site as soon as possible.

So. The internet, particularly the romance community, is all a-flutter today with the news that Quartet Press has closed, without having released a single book. Reactions online have ranged from tearful to tackily, disgustingly, classlessly gleeful–although considering the source on that one I wouldn’t have expected anything else.

Here’s the thing. I feel bad for the people involved. I feel bad for the seven authors who had contracted works to Quartet. I feel bad for Angela James, whom I’ve met and have always liked and respected.

But I am, I admit, confused as to where all the shock and surprise has come from.

A few days ago at Dragoncon a friend asked me what I thought of Quartet; this person was thinking of submitting to them. And I said exactly what I would and have said in the past: It’s a start-up, so wait and see. In fact, a couple of years ago I did an entire series on this, which culminated in a post where I said flat-out, “Don’t submit your work to a start-up publisher.”

Did Quartet appear more promising than most other start-ups? Absolutely. Did that mean I would encourage people to submit to them? Absolutely not.

There were some good, solid names behind Quartet, at least apparently; I wasn’t aware of any of them but other people seemed to know who they were and respected them. And bringing Angie James on board certainly boded well in my eyes. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are NUMEROUS reasons not to submit to a start-up epress, and the background, experience, and reputation of the principals is only one of them.

You don’t know, at the beginning, what the editing process will be like. You don’t know what sorts of books they’ll put out. You don’t know what their covers will look like or what the quality of their books will be. You don’t know what their sales figures will be like, which is hugely important; until you know if you’ll make money from them, why would you submit to them?

People who read ebooks tend to stick with one or two publishers they trust. Period. The market is already glutted. The idea that a new house, which hadn’t necessarily explained yet what it was offering that was different from what other houses were offering, would attract readers simply because they existed, was erroneous. Always has been.

Let’s look at Samhain Publishing. They were a start-up, yes, but one I seriously considered submitting to. Not because Chrissy Brashear owned it; I knew she’d worked for EC, and thus had experience, but when looking for a house to submit to you have to look at it from a reader’s perspective as well. What interested me in Samhain–this was back before they opened–was that they’d attracted a number of high-profile authors. Which meant they had a higher-than-average chance of attracting lots of readers, which is what this business is all about.

Epublishing is a specialized business. It’s currently, at least in the romance/erotic romance area, pretty heavily crowded with publishers. A new house needs more than goodwill to be successful; it needs authors, with followings.

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? If I’ve heard the question once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: How is a new epublisher supposed to be successful if everyone’s telling authors not to submit to them?

There are two answers to this. The first is, I’d expect someone starting a new house to have strong enough relationships with authors that they’ve already attracted some. Again, to go back to Samhain, they started with books by people like Patrice Michelle and Lora Leigh (if memory serves). I’d expect someone starting a new epublisher to have spent considerable time working for a different epublisher. I’m sure that had Angela James been given a chance to truly work for Quartet, she would have been able to bring some authors on board, but up until she joined, again, none of those involved were able to do that.

The other answer is that’s not your problem. It is not the authors’ job to make sure the publisher has books to sell. Period. It is not your job as an author to help a start-up publisher. It is not your job as an author to “support” them. Your job as an author is to write books and get paid for them. You need to put yourself first.

This is a business. It’s not a garden club. It’s a business. If you’re giving your hard work to someone, you should damn well be paid for it.

It’s not like supporting your friend’s start-up garden store by mentioning it on your blog or telling your neighbors. It’s not like me encouraging those of you who have something to sell or want something to buy to go visit Lootslinger and give them a try because they’re less expensive and more fun than other auction sites. I’m not losing anything by doing so. I’m not giving them first publication rights to a piece of my work, thus meaning that work is going to be hard to sell elsewhere and possibly not make me any money at all. I’m encouraging you to go there because I think you’d like it.

Epublishers fail. Print publishers fail. It happens all the time, sadly. So without commenting on Quartet in particular–and I’m certainly not happy or feeling satisfied or vindicated or anything else by their closure–the simple truth is, this is why I do not recommend that anyone submit to start-up publishers, be they print or digital.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m jumping on a bandwagon of blame. I just thought this would be a good time to reiterate that. And yes, I’m honestly surprised by how many people who I assumed were well aware of the risks inherent in this business, and who had themselves in the past counseled authors to stay away from start-up houses, seemed so strongly behind this house. I’ve seen a few people today comment how Quartet was “a new hope” and “one of the greats” and I’m honestly confused as hell by that. They hadn’t even opened. No one had any idea what the quality of their books or authors would be or if they would be able to attract readers. How can they be “rising stars” when nobody knew anything about them?

A lot of people were duped. Their goodwill and friendship were taken advantage of, and I think that’s a terrible shame. But again, goodwill and friendship do not a successful publisher make.

The closure of Quartet changes nothing. This business is difficult. It’s hard to succeed. Let’s not start crying doom here. And let’s remember what is ultimately important about deciding which house to submit to: how many books do they sell?

10 comments to “The way the cookie crumbles”

  1. Ann Aguirre
    · September 10th, 2009 at 4:56 pm · Link

    Totally agree, regarding the start-up peril. I won’t ramble on the topic because I did that to some degree on my own blog, in comments. But you’re spot on, here.

  2. synde
    · September 10th, 2009 at 6:14 pm · Link

    so glad to hear about downside sales..woot and stuff

  3. Cora
    · September 10th, 2009 at 7:29 pm · Link

    I’m not a big ebook reader, so I wasn’t even aware of Quartet Press until two or three weeks ago when I saw their name listed under publishers looking for Steampunk romances (I have one of those, finished but still unpublished).

    And since the other publishers on the list are established houses, while I hadn’t heard of Quartet Press at all, they went right down to the bottom of my list and I wouldn’t have submitted to them without a more thorough investigation anyway. Now the question is academic anyway.

    I still feel sorry for the affected authors and Angela James, though.

  4. Tyhitia
    · September 10th, 2009 at 7:41 pm · Link

    Whoa. Did not know about this. Thanks for sharing, Stacia. Now I’m going to read about around the Internet too. 😐

  5. kirsten saell
    · September 11th, 2009 at 9:34 am · Link

    Did Quartet appear more promising than most other start-ups? Absolutely. Did that mean I would encourage people to submit to them? Absolutely not.

    I don’t know. On the surface, maybe, because they seemed to have so much unhesitating support from major bloggers. But when I did a little scratching around, I found their planned pricing structure to be way out of line, and their plans to pay royalties on net…troubling. As I said at Mrs. G’s, even if Angela James, SBSarah, Jesus and my best buddy opened an epublisher with those standards, I wouldn’t touch them.

    I feel absolutely awful for Angela James. I feel awful for her orphaned Samhain authors who are with new editors who may not adore their work as much as she did. I feel awful for the staff at Samhain who’s lives were disrupted because of this. But the more I read, the less sorry I feel for the principals of Quartet. They seemed woefully under-informed about the ebook market and what it will tolerate, as well as the epublishing business model and the process of producing digital books.

    So I’d add another clause to the start-up caveat–20 years of experience in traditional publishing doesn’t necessarily mean bupkis in the digital world.

    • Stace
      · September 11th, 2009 at 11:05 am · Link

      Very true, kis. But I only ever looked on the surface, to be honest. I also didn’t realize that the principals only had print publishing experience; it seemed to me they were being lauded for their experience in the ebook industry. Had I realized we were talking about print publishers my feeling would have been entirely more cautious–or rather, more cautious than I already was. Because yes, as we all discussed when Ravenous opened, the two worlds are very different.

      I’m still stunned by the idea that the problem stemmed at least in part from trouble reaching agreements with retailers. There’s no need in ebooks to work with retailers, you know? Start with selling direct from the site, then move to retailers later if necessary. I know EC gets a lot of flack for not selling on Fictionwise, but when they sell more books direct from their site than Fictionwise sells in all genres and categories, why the hell would they, you know?

      Just goes to show, hype is not to be trusted.

      • kirsten saell
        · September 11th, 2009 at 1:34 pm · Link

        I know Kassia’s recognition within the ebook community probably led to a perception of experience–and certainly she’s more knowledgeable about the industry and its business model than most people. But as far as I know, the only one of the pincipals who has actually worked in publishing is Mr. Linn, and his experience was in print.

        I also think her position as a popular blogger, the respect she had in the community, the support they got from DA and SBs and the rest, contributed to the serious lack of eyebrow raising over the pay-on-net issue.

        I’m not that impressed with hype of any kind. I look at numbers: number of years experience in digital publishing, royalty rates, price structures, all that. It’s easy to get caught up in excitement when it comes to liberal use of adjectives to describe something–numbers are calm and rational and exactly what they seem. Don’t tell me “lots”, give me a number. Don’t tell me “professional”, give me a number, and one that’s applicable.

        The fact is, their business model (what little I saw of it) seemed geared toward maximizing publisher profit and minimizing publisher risks in such a way that readers pay more and authors earn less per title. That was a biiiiiig red flag for me.

        And yes, retailers. Who really needs ’em right out of the gate? Especially with all the splash and spotlight they got before they even opened. There was nary an ebook reader out there who hadn’t seen their logo and read a little bit about them. From that alone, they were positioned to have decent sales from their own site from the moment they opened. The issue of retailers could have been addressed down the line. I always favor slow steady growth over a bang and fizzle. Epublishing is nothing if not well-suited to flexible and organic growth.

        Anyhow, to say I’m disappointed and saddened and pissed off is an understatement, but as I said, it’s mostly centered around the collateral damage caused by this, to Angela James as well as to Samhain and its authors.

  6. Carol
    · September 11th, 2009 at 6:45 pm · Link

    Congrats on the audio books, Stacia. :smile:

  7. Tyhitia
    · September 11th, 2009 at 7:12 pm · Link

    OMG, I forgot about those. Yes, congratulations on the audio books. Cool. 😎

  8. Nadia Lee
    · September 11th, 2009 at 10:32 pm · Link

    Congrats on the audio sale! :)

    Re: Quartet — I feel very sorry for the authors & Angie. Several friends of mine got orphaned when Angie left Samhain. And all that was for nothing since Angie didn’t even get to work for QP for more than three weeks. :(

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