Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Open Letter to my agent Donald Maass

So last month, the CEO of Kensington (my first publisher) had made comments about the self-publishing industry that I felt needed to be addressed. And this month, it would seem I'm 2 for 2 on the self-publishing debate given that my own agent has also stepped into the arena looking to take a swing in the self-publishing industry. (I would like to point out that Donald Maass did NOT represent me in my Kensington contracts, for those of you who were wondering.)

This is my open letter to my agent after he had posted to Writer Unboxed. He was rather well addressed over at Joe Konrath's blog where Joe aptly named it Fisking Donald Maass. I don't think I need to add anything to what was said. What I'll be addressing is the side few readers and unpublished authors get to see. The real relationship between a writer and their agent.

Dear Donald Maass,
So last week, I was attending a fabulous Indie "Unconference" in San Francisco, learning more about the self-publishing business I'm in, and meeting tons of great professional people, when I stumbled across your blog called The New Class System. Fortunately, I had stumbled on it prior to the event because I was repeatedly asked by other indie authors face to face what I thought of your post given,'re MY agent and um...I'm self-publishing. It was an awkward position to be put in. After all, I've spent more than a few years getting to know you, your business, your model, your craft and what makes you the success that you are. I loved working with you and implementing your ideas and strategies of how to not only step out of the box, but smash it.

Not surprisingly, people had a lot to say about your post. But few (if any) who commented are actually represented by you. They responded to your post with two fists without realizing that you encouraged me to take up self-publishing and explore a world that I was too damn scared to venture into. You supported my decision to self-publish knowing that a.) you wouldn't see any money from what I was doing and b.) that I was walking away from a three book contract with Harlequin. Does this sound like a guy who believes there's a new class system being created? Or were you knowingly letting me get on Freight Class? (I'm being cheeky here, Don).

The class system you describe did surprise me. Because I think you're over-generalizing self-publishing by listing it as simple Freight Class and you know it. I've been in Coach, Don. You helped me get there. You did everything to ensure I was a success in Coach even though the seats weren't as comfortable as I thought they were going to be. But I stayed in my seat. Because I knew that by staying in my seat, the conductor would come around and eventually look at me and say, "You look like you should be sitting in First Class." Unfortunately, that conductor never gave me a second glance, no matter how many times you tried to wave that asshole down for me. In fact, the conductor took it upon himself to leave a window wide open, allowing eight of my books to fly out the window at a digital rate of 8% that I know I should have never signed. It was a digital rate you yourself didn't agree with, but we were dealing with Harlequin and I was told they don't negotiate their digital rates. And if Donald Maass can't negotiate a better deal for me, who could?

But here is the one thing that made you stand out as an agent, even after I've been through 4 others. The one thing that I believe will continue to make you successful regardless of how the publishing industry changes. That although high winds were blowing in Coach Class through that open window and I couldn't hold onto my thoughts or my words or my clothes, you held my hand and kept my thoughts focused on what mattered most: the writing. I learned SO much sitting in Coach Class there with you. I learned to be a better writer because of you and I learned to challenge myself because of you. To me, THAT is what made you earn your 15%. What author can say that or more about their agent? My experience says very, very few. When I finally had the guts to get up from my seat because I knew First Class wasn't going to be in my future for at least another 10 years, you helped direct me to what you now call Freight Class.

I have to say, Freight Class is awesome. No one left the window open back here. The seats are bouncy and let me swivel any way I want so I can write and deliver the books in any way I want. And the conductor isn't sticking his nose in on my business telling me what I can and can't write. It's soooo nice. I guess what you're not seeing is that I learned to appreciate the wonders and the joys of Freight Class after being stuck in Coach Class for so long. I'm loving it back here and I kinda wish you'd actually rename all the classes. Because the people in Freight Class deserve more respect. And let me tell you why.

Once upon a time, traditional publishers and agents defined what went on the shelf. In the gatekeeping industry, a traditionally published author had to please only a few people to get on that shelf: their agent and a core group of editors within the publishing house. If it didn't please those core group of people, a rifle was taken out and the book was shot dead on the spot and buried on the side of the Railroad tracks our Class System train is zipping by. Unlike Coach and First Class who are confined to this way of thinking, the bar has been officially set higher by those in Freight Class. You heard me. Higher. Because we, in Freight Class, have to please more than just a few people. We have to please THOUSANDS and we have to do it all upfront and on our own.

The cold reality is that readers are the new gatekeepers. They aren't the agents, they aren't the editors, and they most certainly aren't the publishing houses. The readers pay for an author's ticket to stay on the train, regardless of what class system they're sitting in. They've always been the gatekeepers, but for some reason, a core group of people in New York decided that their control of the industry held more weight than that of readers and authors.

These single-minded group of agents, editors and publishers surprisingly share a similar core and history with the same group of people who told Charles Dickens he was a loser for supporting International Copyright Laws because he wanted to get paid. Imagine that. We don't know any of the big wig names belonging to those core of people from the publishing industry who told Charles Dickens he was a loser, but guess what? We sure as hell know the name Charles Dickens. And that's something the publishing industry is forgetting. Believe it or not, Charles Dickens started out in Freight Class, too. Because he didn't print his stories in the traditional way writers were expected to in his era (books). He originally printed his stories through periodicals, which was a quick and very inexpensive way to get his stories into the hands of thousands (wow, sounds like a Kobo, Kindle or Nook) as opposed to a select few who could barely afford books (hardbacks come to mind).

Regardless of the class system a writer is put into by an agent or a publisher, ultimately, you and I both know that it's the reader who decides who is going to stay on the train and who is going to get off. And while I believe you aren't knocking the self-publishing industry, given the incredible and wonderful support you have given me, I'm rather liking the idea that I'm sitting here in the same class system similar to what Charles Dickens once hung out in. Being innovative, progressive and dedicated to craft all at an affordable price the masses can afford.

In closing, self-publishing is a lot of hard work, yes, but let's not fool ourselves into saying that the work-load is any different when under a publisher's wing. In fact, the amount of work I did while with New York prepared me to take on self-publishing without any problem. Because my New York publisher never created my website, they never took on my Facebook, they never took on my Twitter, they never promoted my blog, and they never provided me any guidance on how to brand myself. Everything I did, I did on my own all while writing my books. All of this was done while under a publisher's wing, or more aptly, while hanging from the feather of a bird who can't even share my digital numbers.

Delilah Marvelle AKA Freight Class Ticket Holder

Monday, January 20, 2014

An Open Letter to the CEO of Kensington Publishing Corp.

While this blog is usually dedicated to the history of sex, this post will be dedicated to a different sort of history that eventually allowed me to publish and write about historical sex.

The following is my response to an open invitation by Mr. Zacharius, the President and CEO of Kensington Publishing Corp, made after he posted an article to Huffington Post and then posted comments on The Passive Voice. The idea behind my post is to share my experience and educate. 

Dear Mr. Zacharius, President and CEO of Kensington Publishing Corp.,
My name is Delilah Marvelle and I write historical romance. After writing 40 manuscripts and receiving over 200 rejections letters from the publishing industry over the course of 11 long years well before the digital revolution, Kensington was the first and only publisher to give this author a chance given the edgier and racier content of my stories. Kensington took a chance with an author that the rest of the industry brushed aside. I firmly believe, I would not be where I am today, as a writer, if it were not for Kensington giving me an opportunity to be part of the industry. And I thank you and all of Kensington, including and especially John Scognomiglio for putting me into the hands of readers.

That said, I would like to open up the discussion about traditional publishing that you and most of the American population may not be aware of. And that is the history of our publishing industry that made it into what it is today.

Back in 1842, a rising star of the writing world known as none other than Charles Dickens, came to the United States with an open plea and a stance regarding American publishers to favor International Copyright laws. Why? Because American publishers weren’t paying ANY royalties on imported manuscripts to authors. None. Zero. All copies imported by New York publishers were pirated and every penny was pocketed. Have you ever wondered why all the print publishers were historically living on the east coast? So they could hop on a ship and buy up copies of books in England that they then brought back to the States so they could make a huge profit that no author would ever see. Needless to say, American publishers were *astounded* that a popular author would come into their country and educate them on their business practices. What did HE know about the industry of publishing? He was just an author. They tried to intimidate and silence him, telling him he was being “petty and self-serving and undemocratic” by speaking out against their business despite the fact that supporting International Copyright Law would have put more money into the pockets of American authors.

This is the history of New York Publishing. To pay no royalties unless required by law. And in my eyes, not much of New York has changed. This mentality of not discussing the business has been ingrained in the old school brain of every publisher going back to 1842. They intimidated authors into not discussing their contracts, their numbers or their rights. Why? Because if they started discussing the details, the authors might actually realize that they were being financially raped. The services that you, as CEO, boast about (which are hardly unique to the publishing world) comes to an author at an obnoxious price no publisher in New York is willing to discuss. Should ANY publisher get more than half the profits of an author’s work? Are you saying you do more work than, I, as an author, do and that your services are worth more than the content of the book itself? No. I’m sorry. I don’t think so.

The traditional publishing industry has created a hostile environment in which an author is the outsider from beginning to end. Because if I, as an author want more information about royalties or outside contracts (like the one Kensington signed with Scribd), not only did Kensington refuse to share those contracts with me, even though my books are being included in those contracts, I need lawyers and auditors to get anywhere. Does that sound like we’re in business together?

I guess my biggest concern in all of this is knowing that the CEO of Kensington is going online to “talk” about the “realities” of self-publishing, when in fact, Kensington is not a self-publishing expert (obviously). And why was it back in 2011, when RWA had its conference in NYC and the big 6 (at the time) were on a panel discussing the industry with PASIC, the big 6 barred Amazon from even being in the room to listen to their panel? We know why. Self-publishing is a threat to the traditional way of publishing. It’s the first time in HISTORY authors are actually making the money they deserve. No, not millions, Mr. Zacharius, but above minimum wage. And THAT is the “reality” of self-publishing.

Delilah Marvelle

STEVEN: *Authors enter into a contract, quite often with an agent who represents their behalf. No one is forcing them to enter this contract. I believe that contracts are a personal matter between the author and the publisher.*

DELILAH: When I signed my contract back in 2007, even with an agent on my side, I was unable to change any of the percentages in my contract because (as the publishers and agents go on to say even today), it’s a “standard” contract. Your suggestion that contracts are personal when we, as authors, are told by agents and publishers alike that it’s a “standard” contract, leads me to believe that the contract isn’t THAT personal.

STEVEN: * I don't see musicians talking about their contracts in an open forum either.*

DELILAH: I think musicians talk a lot more than you think. They talk about the same things we authors are talking about. How we don’t get paid what we’re due and how the contracts are in the favor of everyone but the author/musician. I’ll just give you one link to look at, but there is a mass amount of discussions out there. Sadly, the creative industry is notorious for taking advantage of an artist’s need to be seen.

STEVEN: * I don't know how you're coming up with the fact that the publisher is getting more than you're making. I can't tell you how many contracts we have where the author ends up making far more than we do. The higher the advance the more likelihood this has of happening.*
DELILAH: I know that you aren’t referring to me. In fact, your example of where the publisher would make less does not apply to me. And I strongly believe you are not talking about most of your authors. Let’s get into some quick specifics on me and Kensington.
1.) For every electronic book that Kensington sells of mine, they make three times the money I do. If I get .25, Kensington gets .75. (Keep in mind that my digital sales are higher than my print sales).
2.) I know what my percentage is, but what I don’t know is what your percentage is. At no point has Kensington ever shared how much it actually profits from my books. I would love to know. And if you feel I don’t need to know then it’s hard to validate your claim that you’re the last in line to get paid. I would *love* to hear the core numbers of what Kensington has made off my book in comparison to what I have made. Put it here or email it to me with a disclosure. I’m thinking, however, that it won’t ever be disclosed. Why? Because what author would be happy to learn that their publisher was making far more on each book sold than the author who wrote it. The other thing you haven’t addressed is the time of payment. As a self-published author, I’m getting paid monthly. Kensington pays me once every six months on year old sales. I have not seen any interest paid to me for the money that sits in the bank over that six month duration.
3.) As a self-published author, and a traditionally published author, I have the luxury to compare the two. In my School of Gallantry series, I only need to sell 1 copy of my self-published Lady of Pleasure, to equal 7 electronic copies of my Kensington books in the same series. The key point being I don’t even need to be as good at marketing to break even as a self-published author.

STEVEN: *I don't think we have created a hostile environment at all. Anyone who has ever asked me a question that I feel can be answered publicly, I have done so. I have no secrets about our deal with Scribd and if you had a question, you could call or email me. I have said publicly that the author is getting their FULL royalty due on any book read from Scribd once the reader goes past a small browsing percentage of the book. The deals are the same as with other subscription services.*

DELILAH: The attitude, which I admire you for publicly expressing, needs to trickle down to the rest of your staff and business practices. Because when I contacted Kensington a few weeks ago, they told me a.) I couldn’t see the Scribd contract b.) I couldn’t be given any other contract details other than that I would be paid my regular royalties. I would hope I’m getting my FULL royalties given I gave you the rights to do so. Because as of right now, here’s how it stands. When those contracts aren’t being shared with me, even though it involves the rights of my book, I’m supposed to just take your word that the deal is what it should be. Give me a legal document that tells me what I’m getting, who signed what and why. Don’t tell me I’m getting a full royalty. Show me. Because while I genuinely wish to believe you, Steven, in the world of business, a handshake isn’t enough. It has to be put into writing. I would love to see the Scribd contract, even if it means I get a disclosure saying I can’t share it with anyone. I’m fine with not sharing it with anyone. What I’m not fine with is not knowing what was in that contract. And that applies to all of the contracts Kensington has signed for me, including foreign rights and audible rights. I’d like to see them. I haven’t seen a single one. What’s frustrating for me as an author is that even with two agents, I can’t get anyone at Kensington to further address this. This is sadly, not unique to Kensington. This is the “standard” way of dealing with authors in the industry.

STEVEN: *You are telling everyone that you need lawyers and auditors to get answers. That is simply not true. If you or any author has a question about a royalty statement we are happy to provide answers without you having to hire an experts that will cost you money.*

DELILAH: When an author asks for a breakdown of where sales are digitally coming from (in other words Amazon or Kobo), Kensington has not been able to provide that. In fact, it refuses to. So I don’t know how many copies I’ve sold digitally to what store. All it shows in my royalty statement is GROSS UNITS. And nothing more. And if I want to ensure those numbers are right, I’m sorry, but it does cost me money. Because the only way I can *ensure* the numbers Kensington is giving me are correct is by taking it to the auditor because as all authors know royalty statements are notorious for obfuscating information. And that’s me speaking of royalty statements in the most positive light possible.

STEVEN: *I never claimed to be an expert on self-publishing. I got pulled into the conversation and just expressed my opinion which basically is that there is a very small percentage of people who are making any real money by self-publishing.*

DELILAH: I think when you speak for the publishing industry, while using your CEO name, it becomes more than just an opinion. Tossing out what you think is an opinion about “self-publishing” and using polls that clearly don’t encompass the majority of the self-publishing industry, is giving misinformation to unpublished authors who don’t know anything about either business. And that, to me, is wrong. Especially because it’s pretty obvious you aren’t speaking too favorably about the self-publishing industry. Which is a shame, because many of your own Kensington authors have gone on to self-publish, including myself, and have made more money doing it.

STEVEN:*And please don't going saying as a generality that authors were making only minimum wage before. That's simply not true.*

DELILAH: And this is where you’re wrong. Is it a generality to say that authors are making only minimum wage? No and no. It’s not. Out of the HUNDREDS of authors that I know through RWA, given I have been part of RWA since 1996, very few have been able to stay at home full time writing. When my husband landed his dream job but couldn’t take it because I landed mine, he made a hard choice that cost him an opportunity he will never get. We couldn’t afford for him to take his dream job given how much money it took to maintain my writing. Even though I was writing 3 books a year, my wage as an author (I broke down my hours) was $1.23 an hour. Not even minimum wage. And my story represents so many others who don’t have the courage to talk about it like I do. I would also like to share my personal story with my dealings with Kensington. I was one of the first Kensington authors to speak up back in 2009, when I lost my contract, not due to lack of sales (I sold out my print run in less than 8 months) but because they were closing a line (Zebra debut) that Kensington just didn't have the guts to openly announce. But what did Kensington do? It made authors like me believe my sales were too dismal to support. I guess selling out of my print run is dismal in the eyes of a publisher. Unlike many authors, I didn’t quit. I went on to publish somewhere else.

The bottom line is this: Kensington is competing with companies like Google, Apple and Amazon who have billions of dollars in capital for investment. Your only investment is your authors. Why destroy that by not giving authors the one thing that they want? 50/50. If Kensington or any other publisher in New York cannot give authors a 50/50 split due to their “costs” which New York cannot cover, then I really don’t see this ending well for Traditional Publishing industry. And that’s something that is hard for even me to swallow because my first and only dream coming into this business was to be published with New York.

If you would like to continue this conversation in private so we may discuss other details that you may not feel comfortable sharing in public, please email me at