Today on Self-Publishing News: Should indie authors exit Twitter in light of all the company turmoil? Also, a judge says no to Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House merger. What does that mean for authors?
These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy.
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About the Hosts
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Should Indie Authors Exit Twitter?
Howard Lovy: Hello Dan, how are you?
Dan Holloway: Hi Howard. It's very interesting here in Oxford, as you probably know we had a murder about a hundred meters from my office yesterday, so I'm somewhat taken up with Inspector Morse type things.
Howard Lovy: Inspector Morse, that's the first thing that popped into mind. Yeah. Wow. So, I hope it wasn't anybody you know.
Dan Holloway: Not that I'm aware of, but I spent all day dealing with the police and yeah, it's been eventful.
Howard Lovy: And as I know from watching Inspector Morse, that Oxford University is just a hotbed of murder and mayhem.
Well, today's podcast day for me. I'm also doing one for Esoterica Magazine right after this one, about how to work with a developmental editor. I also submitted my own memoir in progress to a major publisher in my genre and got back some interesting critique. So, I'm not sure if I'm a traitor to indie publishing by seeking out a traditional publisher, but then again, I'm not sure I'll take all the advice. But it was nice to get my work validated because as we know as authors, we kind of work in a vacuum, and I have no idea if anybody wants to read what I write.
Dan Holloway: Well, we're going to be talking about the size of advances from traditional publishers later. So, fingers crossed you'll get that sort of an advance that we're going to be talking about.
Howard Lovy: Exactly, and all my dreams will come true.
Anyway, a lot has happened since we last spoke, and not least of all in the area of social media. We're all aware of what happened to Twitter since Elon Musk took over. So, let's see if we can focus our conversation on its impact on indie authors, and I'm not sure if there's a, and maybe I'm coining this phrase, a Twexit going on?
Dan Holloway: People are saying there is, whether there actually is or not is another matter.
Howard Lovy: Our own fearless leader Orna Ross said goodbye to Twitter. So, that says something right there.
Dan Holloway: Yes, and has also said goodbye to blogging, I believe, so it's part of a general sort of withdrawal into, I think, making the choice to devote time to writing.
Howard Lovy: Right. Exactly, and there's something to be said for that. As for me, I went to Mastodon, but I'm not ready to say goodbye to Twitter. What I did though is I downloaded my archives. I've got 10 years’ worth of writing on there, and I don't want to lose it if Twitter folds or goes behind a paywall, or whatever.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I think that's one of the worries. So, just to clarify for listeners, we'll probably have quite a long conversation about this, and it sort of overlaps with our tech spotlight section.
Howard Lovy: Yes, okay. Let me play our tech theme in the background. In editing later, I will add our tech theme right now. Go ahead.
Dan Holloway: So yes, where do we start? Other than with the fact that by the time this broadcast goes out, the news will be out of date. That's one of the main things that seems to have been happening with the Twitter story is that it's updating constantly.
Howard Lovy: Yeah. Well, I've noticed that little things aren't working on Twitter these days, and I think that's probably the result of half their staff being laid off.
Dan Holloway: Yes. So, that's probably where we should start. So, the first thing that happened that has made people unhappy, is that as soon as Elon Musk took over a lot of staff were fired, and a lot of staff left, and a large number of those were based in ethics, moderation, and safety, and the sort of areas that make people concerned for what sort of landscape Twitter is going to become.
So, I think that was part of what people were worried about was the direction of the firings.
Howard Lovy: Right, and that's a big concern. As you know, I'm a big advocate in the Jewish community, and antisemitism was a problem on Twitter before, but now with some of these safeguards gone, there's a big fear in all minority communities that hate speech is just going to go through the roof.
Dan Holloway: Yeah. So, I think that's a big concern, and that leads us on to one of the real techy bits. You mentioned that you've moved to Mastodon. Several authors found that they moved, they followed you, they moved to Mastodon, only to discover that actually, I'm not sure quite how to put it, but if you think Twitter's bad, you should see what the other places are like.
Howard Lovy: Yeah. It's very confusing. I think I needed an engineering degree. I accidentally created three different Mastodon accounts without even realizing it. I should have asked my kids to do it for me.
Dan Holloway: Yes. So, that's the thing with Mastodon, it's a decentralized social media platform, and that means that you don't have one central account, you choose which server to go on. So, it has lots and lots of different servers, and the servers are sort of like special interest groups or villages. So, you go to a server based on a particular interest you have or a geographical location. Once you're on a server, you can follow people from other servers, other people can follow you, but there is no centralized process for, for example, moderation or general conduct, and how people go about deporting themselves on the platform. So, you might have a great experience in one place, but not in another, for example.
Howard Lovy: Right. Yeah, I was wondering, you know, a decentralized platform, how do they handle things like hate speech? I don't know.
Dan Holloway: Well, the answer is, because it's different servers, each server will handle it differently, and that's one of the confusing things, is you're then reliant upon finding one that suits you and that works for you.
Howard Lovy: I think the big thing, and maybe this applies to authors, nobody wants to start from scratch on a new social media platform after they've developed their own following and their own community on Twitter.
Dan Holloway: Yeah. So, this is another thing I've seen a lot from writers is, a lot of us have been there for well over a decade now., and over that sort of length of time you build something, and we have always been told the value of building communities organically, building a relationship with your readers organically, doing things slowly and over time, and creating a depth of relationship that has real value, and at the risk of being controversial, it sounds somehow a little bit weird and a little bit fake when a lot of people who've been peddling this line of building organic community and developing it over many, many years, suddenly saying, oh, we'll just go over to Mastodon and start a new community over there. That somehow seems odd.
Howard Lovy: Right, I guess it's a matter of how much you can take in terms of the leadership of Twitter and if you disagree with him politically, or if you disagree with what he's doing on Twitter, or if things are getting worse in terms of hate speech. I don't know. It's a problem that's nagging me in the back of my mind, and I don't have a solution.
Dan Holloway: No, I don't know that I have a solution. I do think a lot of people have made decisions to go elsewhere that they might regret because they don't realize what they're going into. So, last week I wrote a quite an in-depth piece on that to help, I hope, people get a little bit better informed.
And one of the things-
Howard Lovy: Well, tell us what's…I'm sorry, go ahead.
Dan Holloway: Oh, sorry. I was going to say, one of the things that about Mastodon that came out recently again, apart from the fact that people have been subjected to really horrific hate speech on there, is that direct messages aren't encrypted. So, that means that the owner of a server that you are on can read anyone's direct messages. They don't have to tell you; you won't know about it. So, that's something, in theory, it's when you message someone it will tell you that this is the case, but you may or may not realize what that means.
We DM each other all the time saying things like, what do you want to talk about on this month's podcast? Probably no one's going to be that interested in picking it up, but if we were to say other things, so for example, like you said, you're an advocate for the Jewish community. If there were things about that, that you were saying to me, that you thought were private and you were saying them on Mastodon, and the server owner happened to be reading in and then passed them on to someone who was a member of a hate group. That could be devastating, especially if it also had information that could dock someone, for example.
Howard Lovy: Right, although I'm not sure that's all that private on Twitter, either. I don't know.
Dan Holloway: It's private to the extent that it's held by a company rather than by a person, so corporations have to abide by regulations. There is a kind of encryption that means that another user can't look at it, and it means that most companies won't pass over DMs to anyone without there being a subpoena. So, unless it's involved in a legal case. So, it can be hacked, obviously. So, there are a lot of people very worried about whether Twitter at the moment is particularly vulnerable to hacking, but on other groups, things can be read without it being hacked.
Howard Lovy: Right. Well, I'm concerned about all the people who are in charge of those safeguards who are now without a job. So, who's running the machine in the background there? I don't know.
Dan Holloway: No, it's a bit like, I remember a lot of things happened when Windows XP went out of support, and there were a lot of systems that just were still running on XP and technically no one was supporting them and we just hoped they'd work, and it feels a little bit like that at the moment.
Howard Lovy: Well, from the point of view of our audience, indie authors, I guess, we use it for a sense of writing community, other people who are querying, other people who are in the writing process, and also to promote our work; here's a link to my book and let's talk about my book. In that way, I don't see any alternative to Twitter, except the other things like Facebook and Instagram.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, I mean, a couple of the things I pointed out last week, you are on Substack, for example, aren't you, I think?
Howard Lovy: Right, but I've got a few hundred followers on Substack and like 8-9,000 on Twitter.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, that's the difference. I mean, you can now, I think you can hold conversations on Substack with your subscribers. So, it’s moving to being a little bit more social, but like you say, there's a very big difference in reach between the two.
And also, like you said, the communities. So, for example, every Wednesday night we have the indie author chat on Twitter, and authors get together and talk about stuff, and I was involved in a Lit Chat from 2010 onwards. There's the ‘am writing' community, which is huge, and tens of thousands of people use the ‘am writing' hashtag. NaNo is going on at the moment, and lots of writers support each other on Twitter there.
The other thing that writers have access to is agents. So, a lot of pucker literary agents hold pitch sessions. So, you'll often see a hashtag with ‘something' pitch. So, one day a month or whenever an agent decides they want some new exciting work. So, there are all sorts of ways in which writers are using this, not just for social media and not just for what I want to call spammy marketing. So, it's not just, here's a link to my book, but it's actual genuine community building, and sharing of information and best practice that doesn't seem to be possible elsewhere.
Howard Lovy: Right, and people are understandably very reluctant to get rid of that, no matter who's in charge at Twitter.
So, right now from, from that point of view, nothing really has changed. Now it will, if he decides to go behind a paywall. Or if you are a well-known author, and this very loose verification standard, you can have a lot of imitators with blue check marks who say they're you and they're not.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, that was a bit of a disaster that happened. I see that it ended up even sort of impacting the stock market. So, there were companies like Lockheed Martin where people set up spoof account, made some silly tweets, and this was sending stocks crashing because no one had bothered to check whether they were really verified or not.
I think like you said at the start, it feels like it's lurching from one episode to another, without there being any real direction.
Howard Lovy: Right. No, well, I don't know how personal we want to get here about Elon Musk, but he doesn't strike me as somebody very steady, and it also gives us all hope that anybody can be a rich multi-billionaire with the right circumstances, I suppose.
So, what is your final advice to indie authors about whether they should stay, or go, or have their foot in somewhere else?
Dan Holloway: I will end on something very wise that I saw someone say, which is, if you're going to leave, then don't delete your account, but disable it rather than deleting it, because if you actually delete it, then someone else can come along and take your username, and then everything that points to that username will point to that person and not to you, and the consequences of that could range from, I guess amusing in some cases if, I don't know, if my account was taken over by an ice cream manufacturer, then it could be interesting or amusing if anyone who's been @ing me suddenly points to someone selling bizarre flavoured ice cream, or it could link to a hate group, or something really unpleasant, or someone spoofing you.
So, think twice before actually deleting your account rather than just disabling it or making it private.
Howard Lovy: So, hedge your bets a little bit. Make it possible for you to return if things change.
Dan Holloway: Or even not doing that, but just making sure that no one else can pretend to be you if you are well known, then no one else can take your username, because as soon as you delete your account, that username’s up for grabs.
Howard Lovy: Right. Okay. Well, we'll leave Twitter alone for now. Although, I'm sure in future episodes there'll be more to say about what's happening over there.
So, meanwhile, let’s change the topic to something a little more traditional, and that is a merger with Simon and Schuster and Penguin Random House was not okayed. So, tell us what's happening there.
Dan Holloway: Yes, so this came out a couple of weeks ago. The judge in this case said, no, you can't take them over.
So, Penguin Random House wanted to pay 2.2 billion for Simon and Schuster. There was a long and very, it sort of gathered quite a lot of mainstream media attention, trial, partly because they had speakers like Stephen King saying all sorts of nasty things about publishers, which is great theatre. And you had a lot of publishing CEOs, what's the polite word for it, making a bit a bit of an arse of themselves, can I say that? That's a very British way of putting it.
Howard Lovy: That's fine. I don't think there are too many children listening to this podcast. So, you could swear to your heart's content, Dan.
Dan Holloway: The judge in the end seemed also to think that basically, the CEOs of Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster had been, either trying to pull a fast one or just been hopelessly naive, or desperately incompetent it seems, and the real issue at stake is what was labelled during the case ‘anticipated top sellers'.
So, the argument wasn't so much over the overall market share that this was going to lead to, but a very particular market, and that's the market for these anticipated top selling books, which were defined by the Department of Justice as being books for which an advance of $250,000 or more were paid, and that's a figure that raised a lot of eyebrows.
It's certainly a figure that we probably can't dream of seeing. Although some indie authors make large multiples of that amount of money, not many do.
Howard Lovy: No, that kind of money just doesn't compute with me. I can't imagine it.
Dan Holloway: No, I can't imagine it. I don't think I know anyone who has earned that. This, as I say, raised a lot of eyebrows as to why on earth are you focusing on a market that the publishers in question basically said, this isn't really a market, that sort of advance doesn't exist. Or if it does, it's paid to so few people it's insignificant. The judge decided that was not necessarily an accurate reflection. I'm trying to say it in a way that won't get us into trouble.
So, the finding was that payments of $250,000 or more, accounted for 75% of all payments to authors, which is sort of eye-watering because we think of it as this thing that you just don't hear about people who pay this, or who are paid this, and yet apparently, three quarters of all the money that's going to authors in the publishing world is going in the form of sums of that size, which shows you just how small the average payment to other authors must be.
If the whole of the rest of it, of everyone else we know who gets these sorts of advances that aren't that big, amounts to only 25% of the total, given how many of those people there are, they must each be getting a tiny, tiny amount. So, it really shows what a split world there is in the traditional publishing world.
Howard Lovy: Exactly. So, the fact that this was rejected has to be good news for authors in general, then? The more competition there is, the better it is for authors.
Dan Holloway: That's certainly what they found. The other really interesting thing that I picked up was over the bundling of rights. So, this is one of the things that the judge was very worried would happen if the merger went ahead. She cited one case where an agent had tried to sell rights for a very highly paid author to a book that didn't include the audio rights, and in that case, Simon and Schuster had refused to bid on the book unless audio rights were included.
In the end, the auction had to be restarted because all the major publishers that ended up following suit, I don't think she used the word collusion, but it's clear that she sees a situation in which collusion would become easier, and as a result of all the publishers withdrawing from the auction, the agent was forced to restart it with audio book rights included.
So, by having so few publishers who were involved in these bidding wars, it meant that they could essentially force authors to bundle all their rights into one package and sell all their rights at once, and that definitely is something as indie authors, it's a very big motivating factor for a lot of people is you can decide what to do with every one of your rights, whether that's audio, whether it's to different global markets, whether it's digital, print, whatever, you can decide. I want to use this format in this market, I want to think about selling translation rights to one or two markets, I want to think about putting audio in this country, that country. So, you have absolute control, and I think it is fairly clear that authors will make more. You can sweat your asset better if you have more control over how to sell your rights.
Howard Lovy: Right. Now, there is a way, if you have a good lawyer, for you to negotiate your own rights with a traditional publisher and make sure that you're taken care of.
I just spoke with our own Debbie Young, who as you might know just got a traditional publishing deal, but she negotiated it in a way that her publisher is just another kind of vendor that helps her along the way. But she negotiated her own rights, her own audiobook rights, her own translation rights. She made sure that she got what she needed out of the deal.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, and this is has a sort of a long tradition, ever since the days of Amanda Hawking back in 2012 or so, was it, that she burst onto the scene and got a deal with St. Martin's Press, and then Hugh Howie did the same. Essentially what they did was they said, well, the one thing that I find hard to do as an indie author is print. So, I'm going to sell print rights, and I'm going to sell those to a publisher and I'm going to keep eBook rights, and I think that is something that, as an indie author, you can do. You can say, okay, I'll sell you the rights if you want them, but you can only have these ones. So, good for Debbie.
Howard Lovy: Yeah, and she'll be a guest in the next few weeks on my Inspirational Indie Authors podcast.
Dan Holloway: Fabulous. I'm guessing though that she probably didn't get $250,000. Although, do ask her.
Howard Lovy: You know, I didn't ask, I didn't ask. But she writes Cosy Mysteries, so I'm not sure if that niche-
Dan Holloway: There’s a lot of money in Cosy Mysteries at the moment, whether it's $250,000 or not, I don't know, but it's a very popular genre.
Howard Lovy: I should have asked.
Okay, Dan, well, thank you again for the latest updates on the news. As always, go to selfpublishingadvice.org for the latest columns, and news, and podcasts, on all these stories and more.
Dan Holloway: Thank you.
Howard Lovy: Thanks, Dan. Bye.