Why I Chose To Leave Penguin Books

SO... How was your weekend last weekend? Hear any strange news? Especially on April 1? Like, maybe, your favorite author in the whole wide world got a 6 book, $250,000 deal from Random House?

Well by now, you know it's not true, Neil Gaiman is worth WAY more than that. And it's also not true that I was offered that. It was an April Fools gag, borne of a tweet/post two days prior stating that I had exited my contract with Penguin/Gotham.

A lot of people commended me for the early setup and perfect execution. But the truth is, it was no set up. I've been working for over a year to exit my contract with them, and finally it came through. I didn't even think about the proximity to April 1 when I posted the news. But it definitely made for a good lead-in, huh?

So, the big question: Why? Why would I leave my publisher? Well, let me clear up some of the easy assumptions:

Did Penguin fire me? -- Nope, I left. It was my choice.
Did I screw up and get dropped? -- Nope. They very much wanted my next book.
Was sales performance down? -- No, I've sold very solidly and consistently since the book was released.
...Okay then, it was your choice, your sales were good, you didn't screw up and they didn't fire you. So then, are you nuts? --No.

So why leave? Well, the answer is actually really simple, but the explanation is quite long. The short version: In 2011, it makes NO sense for small or mid-tier writers to court or stay with a publisher. It just doesn't.

The truth is, there's a big push at every major publisher to court digital. Penguin wanted my books to be flagship / early push digital books, with no paper copies. For this, they were going to pay me $0.00 in advances and 30% royalties. And to make their means, they want to charge $12.99 a copy. For a digital book.

Let's think about this a second. $12.99 for a product they don't have to print or ship anywhere, whose median price point across the marketplace is $6.00 or less. And they are going to pay me 30% of the royalty, which would be $3.90.

Add to this that Penguin, Random House, and every other publisher has essentially no traffic to their dedicated ebook stores, with most sales taking place across Amazon and iBooks.

I can put the book out myself for zero advance and 100% royalties. I can charge $3.90 for the book itself. I can sell MANY more copies than I would have at $12.99, and I don't owe anyone anything.

My first book sold a little over 15,000 copies, self-published. I made roughly $7.00 on each copy sold, shipped, at $14.95 cover price.

My second sold even more, and yet at 7.5% royalty, I still haven't covered my $27,500 advance. And I have probably sold fewer than 100 digital copies in the Kindle store, due to the insane price point.

When you add to this that I wanted a book out the very next year, in November 2010, and they still hadn't even decided on a pitch, and even if they had it'd take 12-18 months to get one out the door, and when they did get it out the door they would push like hell to sell it at $12.95 digitally... Lame.

More than that, they've pushed back against every idea I've attempted to put forward, with digest sales (a chapter a month at $0.99), special digital editions, signature print editions for preorders only...

It's been a chore. And it's actually not the fault of my editor -- he believes in me and has pushed for these ideas. It's the industry. It's broken, irreparably I might add. It's built for the long process and long sale, with sales reps courting brick and mortar stores, and position on shelves to a beholden audience determining popularity of a product.

Now, I can send you a link to something I like and you can have it immediately. No store, no sales rep, no annoying 30% off if you use your annoying membership card. No waiting for royalties. No breaking advances up into multiple checks. I can just stick it out there, point you to it, and boom -- you have my book. Yay.

And if you want a print copy, I can do that too, with very little effort. When I produce my next book, there'll be print copies available, as well as digital. And it's all very easy for me to set up -- and it won't take 18 months to produce.

All I need to know, and this is serious now, is what you want to read next. A "Best of the Worst" Mentally Incontinent colleciton, with the 2nd place voted stories? A "Romance" series, all about my silly whimsical romance stories? All new material? If it's all new, do you want a fiction book? A collection of essays? More Mentally Incontinent?

Hell, let's make it two books for 2011. A collection of Mentally Incontinent or Journal stuff (along with all new material included), and a departure for me, a fiction book. Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery... That's YOUR choice.

You tell me, and I'll make it so. April 30 is the deadline for ideas, concepts and suggestions. PLEASE post them in my journal's comment section or in the comments of Facebook (if you're reading this in aggregate as a post there).

I need suggestions for both the collection of stories book and the fiction book.

For the collection, there will be a book available for pre-order IMMEDIATELY and it will begin shipping May 31, with Kindle / iBook / ePub available the same day. There will be a hardcover edition of the new book for preorder as well, same as my first self-published book, limited only to those who preorder -- and no more.

For the fiction book, there will be a book available for pre-order September 1, and it will begin shipping October 1, with Kindle / iBook / ePub available the same day. There will be a hardcover edition of the new book for preorder as well, same as my first self-published book, limited only to those who preorder -- and no more.

I hope you all agree, this is great news. I'm free to do the thing I always liked doing -- putting things out my way. And I hope you'll come along for the ride.