#sfwc14 – keynote Barry Eisler – Surfing the Waves of Change

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Surfing the Waves of Change  —  Barry Eisler – Keynote speech of 2-15-14  —  #SFWC14

Barry Eisler at SFWC14 - Photo by Robb Lightfoot

Barry Isler, graduated Cornell Law School. Did tech law. Earned black belt. Best selling thrillers. Won Barry Award and Gun? award. Translated into many languages

Work has been made it on the screen.

10 novels and a how to book called “Be the Monkey.”

Won’t have time to talk about the changes.

barryisler.com – there is a link for indie writers.

Be The Monkey is a conversation with a friend of his who is a thriller writer.

How has it changed?

Once upon a time, there was only one way. It was in paper.

Not that long ago to reach an audience was on paper, and you needed a distribution partner.

This is what was true for the masses.

Fundamentally, what publishers have always been is distribution partners.

Publishes might disagree. They would say that they do editing and artwork design. This is true, but the model was built on distribution. The authors could always outsource for a flat fee. The one thing that could not be flat-fee outsourced was distribution.

Digital changed all this.

Authors can can now distribute their books just as effectively as a million-dollar business. I can say this because I have experience of having books distributed traditionally.

He now has 100% access of any conventional business. He can do it all himself. Now, when someone offers digital distribution services, it’s like someone offering me air.

Skeptics point out that you may about 30% for distribution. OK, so it’s more like water.

Publishing, the NY businesses, were a necessity. We don’t need them anymore. He said he knows he offended some people, and he’s sorry (joking) I love you, I love books. This statement generates hostility. But legacy publishers can benefit, too. He knows they like to call themselves traditional publishers, and that’s because they focus on certain parts of what they do. He’s been told that they hate publishers and wishes them dead. This is not true. He wishes them well, and he thinks they are sick.

A newbiesguidetopublishing – Joe’s blog.




He says the publishers need to change because they only pay authors twice a year.

Barry does not advocate any particular path. He’s happy no matter what, but he thinks people should make choices on informed awareness.

So, he has no issues… with the exception of bullshit. And there is a lot of bullshit in this industry.

Agent Donald Maass wrote a post that Barry says is bullshit. He used a lot of analogies and comparisons that some found offensive. That’s not the issue for Barry. He describes this below.

See http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/02/fisking-donald-maas.html

Barry asked if there are football fans, and said that he doesn’t like it. No one seemed offensive. He cited a recent, successful mystery author who said she doesn’t care for it

Back to Don. Don’s post suggested that there is a class system in travel. Freight class, coach class and first class.

This is an interesting observation.

And wrong.

The class system in travel speaks to the fact that you can pay the money and get the plane. But in writing, you can write the best book of all, and not get it published.

There is a component of luck.

We have no power over this, but we can do all we can to protect ourselves from bad luck and to enhance our opportunity when good luck happens.

We can’t control luck, but we can manage it.

First thing, write the manuscript. If you don’t write the manuscript, you don’t have a chance.

Also, this is not a pure meritocracy where luck does not come into play. In our world, you must do both.

Second, you must work on your craft.

It’s still a lottery. Even good authors don’t publisher nothing but best-sellers.

I can tell you have to double your chances to win the lottery…

Buy two tickets.

Now we are getting around to an honest conversation.

“It’s hard to get a man to understand something his livelihood depends on not understanding.”

There’s a lot more of this on his website.

So, you have to ask yourself a variety of questions.

For authors, this is an unmitigated good. Choices. Choices are good.

When he first got published, his choice was between two publishers.

Now there choices- three choices

  1. Legacy
  2. Self
  3. Amazon


He’s not advising you, plug in your own values. You can look at Barry’s framework for help.

First, consider the advances. No advances in the self-publishing world. Crazy Joe Conrad hates a lot of thing about legacy. Barry asked if a legacy publisher would give him a million-dollars, if he’d take it. Crazy Joe said “NO.” Two million-dollars? “NO.”

Also… a certain portion of your sales will be paper or visual – www.authorearnings.com. They can be followed on Twitter.

If you’re 100% paper. There’s digital, paper, online, brick-and-mortar.

If all paper, this may not be for you. You won’t be get enough.

But, if  100% are digital. Legacy pays 12.5% per unit. If I self-publish, I get 70%. So, the question is whether you think the legacy publisher will move 5X as many units.

This is a businesses talk, but I hate to dwell on this. I like to think of myself as an artist. I like to prance around the house and say “I’m an artist.”

But when you package your art and offer it for sale, congratulations… you’re an artist.

So, this is a good place to wrap it up. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I wish we had more time to talk. I think if we had more time, we’d find that we may agree more than it sounds.

Now, there is one thing that is undeniably true. Digital has disrupted the system. There used to be one choice, and now you have more. This is AWESOME.

This industry has been severely disrupted by technology.  And I hope we’ve learned to roll with it.

Q and A –



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