Tim Roux of Taylor Street Publishing, on “The Publishing Market”


Recently, The Object interviewed author J. Eric Laing, who told us he had placed his novel Cicada with Night Publishing, owned by Tim Roux, but several months ago withdrew it from Night and self-published instead.

A disagreement between the author and publisher unveiled itself during the interview and subsequent commenting, which has led to Tim offering us an article entitled “The Publishing Market” that details his perspective on the subject, along with how his company operates in today’s publishing world.

____________________

The Publishing Market

by Tim Roux, Taylor Street Publishing

I have been a professional international marketer, brand manager and business strategist for 30 years but, like many a closet (or at least bookcase) bookworm, I always felt I had a book inside me.

Then, in 2004, after throwing away a few chapters of an effort that embarrassed even me twenty years earlier, I went for it and wrote ‘Blood & Marriage’ in 3 months, mostly 35,000 feet in the air.

It was, and is, a totally self-indulgent book that nobody should ever be asked to read, but it led to nine other books, some of which have been kindly reviewed, and I have had something like 20,000 sales / downloads of my books since, so I can declare with false modesty to anyone who will listen – and many who won’t – ‘Yeah, I have sold a few books’.

However, where I have really begun to sell books has been as a publisher. When I started out in January 2010, I simply knew that I wanted to get some books I loved into print. I knew how to publish books on the cheap into paperback – I had self-published my own – but I certainly didn’t know how to promote or sell them. Nevertheless, I was friendly with several authors and managed to persuade a few of them to let me publish them (as I still do).

I started with a target of publishing 5-6 books a month. Nine months later, our first book really took off – 3 sales in 6 months, then 11,000 the next day. The company got into its true sales rhythm about a year ago. It has certainly had its ups and downs since, and the original company was driven into the sidings during a particularly vicious divorce process, but the phoenix companies are up and fighting all over again, with a specific view of publishing which I would like to share here, whether it is useful to you or not, or even true or not.

I think the first thing, as authors, we have to decide is what we want from writing. Do we want to hold our own book in our hand; do we want people to read it; do we want to make money out of it?

If all you want is your own book, then you can self-publish your book in a day, and nothing can stop you. If you want people to read your book, you have Kindle Select and Smashwords to offer free downloads in their tens of thousands, if your book is attractive enough. If you want to make money, well, as Mark Twain said, “Any idiot can write a book, but it takes a genius to sell it.”

The book market is a market, and all markets have segments, eventually. As far as we are concerned, there are four topline segments for fiction – literary, genre, life and weird.

If you are a literary writer and want to make money from your novels, you really only have one choice – find a major publisher and get them to see you as the latest literary Messiah, or at least as the latest Pulitzer contender. Major publishers only want sales or prizes. Literary books generally don’t sell, so you have to offer publishers prestige and prizes. Without a major publisher, you are stuffed. The only chance of selling a literary book is if you and your book become household names, you are reviewed by the major literary reviewers and you are displayed prominently in bookshops – all incidences of which are symbiotic. You must enter the zeitgeist, then book clubs want to read you to discuss, in effect, the news. Sure, you can self-publish – you may even get a big review – but you need the muscle of the majors to drive you to prominence.

However, if you are a genre writer, your opportunities are radically different. Kindle and e-books have changed everything. You can just bowl in there, give away some books, and see if you can catch on. It is an open market. The big genre markets are Romance and Crime, so however hard you have to shoe-horn, give your genre book a Romance / Crime slant if you possibly can. And don’t get too clever. Readers are attracted by the cover, then read the back cover text, then sample the writing, then buy. The cover has to be simple and impactful, not ‘designed’, the back cover text is advertising copy, and the book itself is whatever it is. Never allow the reader to hesitate – a reader who hesitates is lost.

Also remember that most e-books are free, so even 99c is premium pricing. 99c doesn’t give you much in terms of royalties but you are hitting the countline impulse purchase point and we have paid out $4,000 in a quarter to a writer whose book was priced at 99c, and regularly pay out $2,000. Everything over 99c is for established writers. $2.99 earns you better royalty rates, but keep it for the sequel to a successful 99c book.

In terms of promotion, Kindle Select is your best bet by miles at the moment. It costs nothing and it can generate massive sales. Some authors are anal and hate giving away books, but it is easily the best route to success – make sure you have a promotion of the free e-book at least one day a month. All other modes of promotion are much more suspect in terms of return on investment. The Kindle satellite recommendation sites used to be good but I think Kindle has mostly seen them off, other than for one-off sales spikes that no longer kick off extended runs.

If you give away books in their thousands, you will inevitably come across the guy I call ‘the village smart-ass’, who will invariably ask, “How many books have you actually sold, then?” The answer is simple, “A lot more than you, smart-ass!”, and that answer, in 99.9% of cases, will be true, unless you are talking to Stephen King (who also self-publishes, as it happens).

Blog reviews really only sell books in single figures; advertising on major blogs doesn’t do a lot for sales either. Building your own brand as a personality can really underpin and fan your sales but you have to train yourself only to mention your books occasionally and to focus on yourself as the key point of interest. People, as they say, buy from people. It is the one-to-many relationship that is important. If they like you and engage with you, they may buy your book.

We are experimenting with every promotional tool we can find but, in general, marketing works best the closer you are to the point of sale. The other day Espresso Book Machines contacted us. They do those instant book machines where you choose your book, wait five minutes, and out it pops. The interesting thing is that they are backed by Google who want a slice of the book market pie. I personally believe that most bookshops will become coffee and cake shops with a few books lying around in the very near future, but people do like paperbacks in their hands, or on their shelves, so I can just see it working. Actually, what I think will happen is that people will start reading an e-book and go, “I would really like to read this as a paperback” or maybe they will use Espresso printing instead of placing an order for a book in a bookshop. Whatever, if we can get the chance to co-promote our books with the backing of Espresso and Google, we are definitely happy.

Which brings us to the final two market segments – ‘life’ and ‘weird’. ‘Weird’ is easy – it’s for off-beat books to be read by a very few people, unless a miracle occurs, as it sometimes does. ‘Life’ books, though, can sometimes perform like genre books. Autobiographies of nonentities are generally hopeless in sales terms, but authors addressing social issues, or describing big personal adventures, can certainly break through to the single buyer market, as against the book clubs which require major publication.

In summary, to date our most successful books in sales terms have been:

1.    Romance / Crime
2.    Life
3.    Crime
4.    Romance
5.    Life
6.    Crime
7.    Romance / Crime
8.    Romance / Fantasy
9.    Life

Finally, agents and publishers ….

In the experience of many authors I know, agents are very hard to get, and once got are rarely worth getting. Some authors fantasize an agent into being, as in, “I’ll just consult with my agent before I sign”, and that may be about as useful as most of them get. However, if you want a major publisher, you need a major agent.

Publishers? A key rule: never expect any useful marketing input from any self-publishing vanity press. They are printers. They have virtually the monopoly on every useless book marketing technique going, and they would love to charge you for the privilege of using their abject services, but tell yourself, ‘Money down the drain’, and don’t stop repeating this until you are safe.

Major publishers mostly demand big sales. If they cannot make $100,000 out of you, you are of very little interest. Most authors, apparently, never get paid more than their initial advance. Many authors’ books get shredded during the first few weeks of publication.

Indie publishers? These are mostly a decent bunch of earnest people as far as I can tell, with varying levels of sales skills. Yes, it is possible that we are the fount of all evil, but mostly we will probably sell more than twice the  books you will, and mostly you will not be cheated. A few loquacious authors get very excited about their royalties and whether they have been cheated out of them or not, but, let’s face it, if you are earning real money for a publisher you will get paid, and if you are not, well, you will probably be paid eventually, and waiting for your $50 royalty check will rarely lead you into the financial abyss, especially as most major publishers and printers have a minimum payout rate of $100. Our most outraged authors to date have complained about not being paid on time for royalties amounting to 67c, $4.94 and an amount where they owed us money rather than vice-versa. Important authors get paid; the ‘long tail’ may have to wait a while, as most of them do, patiently.

In short, if you are an amateur writer, the publishing market is a game – enjoy it. If you want to make it your profession, then treat it as your business, and write not only what you are good at writing but what the market wants to read. From there you will have ups and downs, as any business does, but it is your business, so keep at it, make mistakes, record victories, and if you are good at business you may well be a successful writer.

____________________

Learn more about Tim Roux at:

http://www.taylorstreetbooks.com/

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24 thoughts on “Tim Roux of Taylor Street Publishing, on “The Publishing Market”

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  2. P.S. Every author I know – and I know a lot – has some sort of complaint or gripe about their publishers. These range from editing issues, to poor marketing, communication and discounts, to late payment of royalties. Night Publishing is unusual in that their problems have been so publicly aired.

    I forgot to mention above, that I have always been a huge fan of ‘Cicada’ and wish Eric the best.

    • Karen, I believe you have hit the nail on the head, when you say ‘Night Publishing is unusual in that their problems have been so publicly aired.’
      The downfall of Night, caused by a public and acrimonious ‘divorce’ with all it entailed, made me think twice and get the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. In the meantime, Sheila Mary Belshaw, did an excellent edit of my book ‘Lallapaloosa’, only for its publishers pre-sales review to be a ‘rug puller’ which, when combined with a peppering of glaring errors, convinced me Taylor Street was not the route to travel down on either a dark night or sunny day. Therefore, and after reading prior comments, I harbour no regrets in sticking to my life-long maxim regarding potential business partners.

  3. Speaking as a published author, who has never had anything to do with Night Publishing and Tim Roux, I think that some other people in this discussion on here – and authonomy – are being very unrealistic and Tim Roux is not the villain that he has been painted.

    Publishing is a cut-throat business and after a year in the industry, I now know that getting a publishing deal is no guarantee that they will keep you. I am in contact with several authors who were eventually dropped by their publishers because of poor sales, and I know of another, who is with Penguin, who lives in constant fear that they will drop her.

    Against this background, at least Tim kept on the ‘That Right’ website for the ‘unimportant’ people. The label sucks, I know, but that is reality.

    Night always seemed too good to be true. This democratic approach to publishing and marketing the books ‘voted’ each month by other members was never going to work. Authonomy don’t do it, so why should anyone expect Tim to do it ad infinitum?

    When his business grew he sorted out the wheat from the chaff and divided his authors. Unfortunately, because of the forums and previous ‘friendliness’ of the group it all became very public and I have never seen so much dirty laundry washed in public. However, on the other hand I think Tim must be congratulated on his openness; most publishers loath their authors talking to each other. Yes, it has hurt a lot of people but Tim has set out his stall – as he is entitled to do – as a business man. He is no longer running an idealistic literary kibbutz.

    I’m sorry to hear that Tim hasn’t paid his royalties to Eric, but this does beg the question: what does it say in the contract? In most, you get a six monthly royalty statement and the publisher is obliged to send out royalties within three months of that date. If Eric has signed an open-ended deal (and didn’t get advice on it from The Society of Authors or The Writer’s Guild) then I’m sorry, but he only has himself to blame. If Tim is in breach of his contract then Eric needs to take him to the small claims court – or the American equivalent.

    On the positive side, I have heard that the Taylor Street authors are doing very well and anyone who has been offered a contract would be ill-advised to let this opportunity pass.

    Karen Charlton
    http://www.karencharlton.com
    author of
    Catching the Eagle
    The Missing Heiress
    http://www.knoxrobinsonpublishing.com

    • This is very interesting. I already knew that most agents are ridiculously demanding as to the exact form of a submission, or so people say, and now it sounds like all publishers are bastards! How very sad.

  4. Tim,

    Obviously the implication is that I was difficult and think I’m Stephen King.

    For the record, I was demanding. I demanded that the list of typos I still found after Night’s editing was “complete” be corrected. I think it took about six emails before I could see that small task completed. And this all while the book was on sale and people were spending their hard earned money on it. I demanded my positive Kirkus review be posted on my Amazon page…it never was. I demanded you revert my title back to the simple title I gave the book, (Cicada) not the ridiculous one (Cicada: Someone is Going to Die) you decided upon in a misguided bid to pass the book off as a crime thriller (which it is not) and published without even running it by me. I asked several times over the course of months for my sales figures. Something I also never received. Hardly something that would be asking too much…but I guess that is “demanding.” These days, I can check my sales figures in three easy clicks…something you couldn’t be bothered to do even once for one of your first-time authors who was desperate to know how his maiden voyage into publishing was going.

    Yes, I was demanding. I wanted the book to be the best it could be. You simply wanted to throw it out there and move on. And while I was “demanding” I was always polite and patient. I wore out the keys for “please” and “thank you” on my keyboard in my requests to you. I even recall I offered to give you an extra 5% of my royalties to offset the time and trouble I was asking of you just to get my book where it should have been in the first place…polished and typo-free.

    It wasn’t my desire to air our dirty laundry out in public. But then, I’m certainly not going to sit back and listen to your thinly-veiled digs at me regarding “important” and “demanding” writers.

    And lastly, I wonder if Mr King would have griped if the dedication to his wife in his very first novel got flubbed by his publisher. I bet he might. Either way, I do know I didn’t.

  5. Janet,

    Free downloads are free publicity. You really have to get your head around that or you don’t understand the modern publishing market at all.

    • I understand the topic well enough. It goes like this: there are ‘sales’ and there are ‘free downloads’ and those ‘free downloads’ don’t mean a lot unless they generate real sales. Slapping the two together so that the numbers along suggest the writer is a bestseller is lame, to be honest.

  6. Eric,

    I am afraid we live in the real world. 20% of a company’s products will earn a profit, 60% will be profit neutral, and 20% will make a loss – that is a universal rule of statistics which works, give of take a few per cent, in every market that has ever been investigated (ask Bain & Co, who did the original studies).

    That really says it all as far as I am concerned.

    For Taylor Street and That Right, we will do whatever we can to help our authors, but if authors who commercially don’t matter insist on behaving like they are Stephen King, well there are only so many hours in the day, and those hours are prioritised towards those authors who really matter and those authors who are really nice to deal with.

    Marginal authors with an attitude are going to get short shrift – of course they are.

  7. Originally Tim ran Night. It was generally informal, friendly and every one supported every one else. There were something like 120 books published under the Night banner. Sales weren’t bad, and indeed some books did incredibly well. Tim’s philosopy then was that as long as he earned a reasonable amount monthly he was prepared to publish books that were not likely to sell well. He didn’t care. Then sadly Night had to close, and Taylor Street and That Right (whatever that name means) were created. Taylor Street was meant for the elite authors, those with a track record. That Right was for the also rans, or those not previously published by Night. At this juncture I should say i was one of the so-called elite. Nonetheless I was unhappy that a lot of the old Night friiends had been abandoned, or ignored. In my view there was never the need to have a two tier system. Taylor Street is not the friendly place Night used to be. The contract is far too onerous for me, so I could not sign up to it. For reasons that I won’t go into here I and Taylor Street have now parted. I shall be following the self published route..

  8. And when the ‘Publisher’ has spent 20 odd years playing the ‘long con’, and in that time gathered his ‘disciples’, who constantly shower his sandals with kisses, and are grateful for every crumb and crust thrown, has it not dawned on you that you are part of a very lucrative game called ‘cast the net far and wide’. Need I elucidate more?

  9. I agree Eric. I wasn’t considered “important” enough so I decided to go it alone and I am not the only one. How much do you wanna bet this comment won’t be approved?

  10. “The other day Espresso Book Machines contacted us. They do those instant book machines where you choose your book, wait five minutes, and out it pops.”

    How fabulous! I’d never heard of those.

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  12. How would an author end up owing the publisher money? You don’t offer advances so this is a strange one …

    and I agree with Eric – separating your authors into “important” and “not so important” is unprofessional. You offered the contracts to the authors – therefore each and every one should be important to you.

  13. Tim,

    I would also add…. I should think ALL the authors signed up with you are “important” to you. I am saddened for all the authors with you to hear from your own pen that they clearly are not.

    I guess that is why you have divided your efforts into two ventures. Your “important” writers are at Taylor and those you don’t think as much of are left to the table scraps over at That Right.

    So then, the money made for you by the That Right authors is funneled over to better support your favorites at Taylor?

    J. Eric Laing

  14. Pingback: An Interesting Article On The Publishing Market

  15. Barring reaching a sales benchmark and a hitting minimum royalty for payout, I fail to see why the writer who has small sales needs wait any longer to get paid than the one enjoying more success.

    You say “important” writers get paid while the “long tail” needs to learn patience. I guess that was part of what led me to go it on my own. I was not willing to allow another party decide whether I was important or not.

    J. Eric Laing

  16. Downloads and sales aren’t the same thing, and it doesn’t matter what the self published say. The only thing that counts is if someone plonks their money down – 20,000 sales are brilliant. 20,000 downloads aren’t. Apart from that, really interesting article.

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