In a comment to our recent publisher update posting, Evan Erwin voices concerns that Robert and I have strayed from our original commitment to total transparency.
"This is a very interesting change in tone, I think, as things are slowly beginning to conform to "normal publishing standards".
I’m not nay-saying here, I’m just noticing a trend. First the agent, then the loss of some openness, then there are 3 publishers whose names we won’t know (will we ever know the two losing publishers?)"
Evan, you are right. There has been some drift. We began this project with a certain swagger and did not fully think through the consequences. So we’ve pulled back a few steps from total transparency, but I don’t think we’ve gone as far back as you fear.
Let’s look at some of the changes and why: We claimed we would auction off publishing rights on eBay. This turned out to display an attitude of more balls than brass.
This project’s primary objective is to publish a book. We are using blogs to prove certain points of the book and to get feedback from a great number of people who have an awesome quantity of collective brainpower. But most, we want to publish a book and that process, like many business contractual processes is more complicated than it first appeared to be.
We are learning by the minute. We are learning about publishers and agents, promotions, bargain bins and all sorts of stuff.
Let’s go back to the auction. We’ve pulled back because: (1) eBay won’t allow it, (2) Publishers won’t play and (3) the deals are much more complicated than just the actual advance on royalties, which is the nmber that is so often discussed.
Other issues connected to a publisher are vast. To namme a few, there’s revision , international and paperback rights (we’ll forgo movie rights because I refuse to appear on the Red Couch nude). Then there’s distribution issues: Where will our book be placed in the store? The publishers want to know if Robert and I have the talent and organization to deliver the book on an agreed-to schedule. They want to know if we can get our own coverage, speaking engagements, guest shots on talk shows etc. We want to know if the publisher can set up a book reviewers/bookstore tour for us, or maybe a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times. They really will do it if they think they can sell enough books. Publishers and authors don’t always end up loving each other, but it is a most symbiotic relationship. Our book is their propertty. In the end, we get compensated by how many of them they sell.
Evan, we did previously name two interested publishers–O’Reilly and Wiley. A third has asked that we do not publically name them at this point. We will honor that request.
When our deal is done, we want to announce the terms. The right publisher for this book will probably see the wisdom of it and will probably negotiate to get something held back. We don’t know how that plays out yet, but we will tell you.
Despite other comments we have received, we understand that if it’s a large deal, the publishers like it to be made public because it gets attention and attention sells books.
I imagine its the authors who want to be tight-lipped on the small deals because it indcate a dubious commitment on the part of the publishers. Let me explain why. The advance on royalty–the money we receive as we write the book is calculated by number crunchers who make estimates on the numbers of book sold at full retail, then as time goes by, increasingly lower amounts. The publishers get 52 percent of the sale at full retail, and then we get a negitiable amount–in the vicinity of 10% of that. At some point the book is sold at "below publishers cost" and they will want to give us nothing. How we calculate publisher’s cost is subject to sometimes contentious negotiations.
We will talk about as much of this as we can and we admit we should have been saying a lot more as we go on. The story right now is changing on a daily basis. Robert has had the good fortune recently to speak with Malcolm Gladwell, and Erik Hansen, Tom Peter’s branding guy. Halley Suitt knows lots more than we do about the publishing business and she’s been Robert’s House Guest. Buzz Bruggeman, our mutual pal who helped get this project going is trying to put us in direct touch with his friend David Allen who has had a best-seller running for four years. We are learning fast and furious.
Likewise we have mountains of arguments for and against hiring an agent and we have not decided, despite my promises to tell two of them whether we were a go/no go with them by now.
Into all that, Robert has been going through an enormously busy time, and I have been happily immersed on a project with Jambo Networks, advising them on their upcoming Demo launch, and oh yeah–I’m writing chapter 1. We figure we’ve produced 5000 good words and have about 115,000 more to go.
So, Evan, to shorten the point. No we will not be a fully transparent book as we had hoped to be. We will however, produce the most transparent book in history. We have taken what Dan Gillmor started when he posted chapters of "We the Media," on his blog and watched how his readers improved his work, and we hope to move the needle. Someone after us will get to produce the first completely transparent book. Sometime after that it will simply be the way it is done and publishers seeing what can be accomplished in gathering insight and information, not to mention a full head of steam on the word-of-mouth engine may some day insist on it.
But thanks for calling us on the drift. We’ll try to do better in the future. And we’ll start telling you more about what we aren’t telling you, because you guys deserve it.