Saturday, April 29, 2023

Orbit Works - but it doesn't. Not for the publisher, and certainly not for the authors.


Hey all, Robin here. I'm temporarily taking over Michael's blog about a recent development in the book industry.  As you may know, we have been published through Orbit in the past, and while both of us have benefited from that relationship, I think their new imprint: Orbit Works is a very bad idea.

What is it? Well, it's a digital-only imprint to distribute Sci-fi and Fantasy titles. A few points about them:

  • It's a digital-only imprint - so no physical books are produced or bookstore distribution (one of the best perks about going traditional. I should note that in some cases, they MAY produce print-on-demand books, but even if they do that, they won't be sold in bookstores because the unit cost of a print-on-demand book (and the fact that it has to be paid upfront) doesn't work in the retail chain where 50%+ of the book's list price goes to the retailer.

  • They don't offer advances - again, this is one of the perks of being traditionally published. You have a guarantee of income.

  • They require audio rights - right now, these are the most lucrative rights there are for books. I have several "audio only" contracts in the six-figure range and one that is seven figures to turn over these incredibly lucrative rights to a publisher that offers no advance. 

  • They pay 50% of net on ebooks and 25% of net on audio - now granted the 50% is 25% more than a standard traditional publishing contract, but given their up-front costs are so low and they don't have to shell out money for printed copies, it's still highly weighted to them.

  • They pay twice yearly - this is the same as I'm paid, but given the digital only nature of their business I don't understand why they don't pay like amazon and audible - which is monthly.
Obviously, Orbit Works is targeting the self-published authors.  But no self-publishing author who is doing well would ever accept a contract under these terms. After all, they are cutting their ebook sales in half, and their audio sales by 15% (ACX self-publsihing pays 40% of net). Given that, Orbit Works will only be getting the "bottom of the barrel" titles - and it's nearly impossible to create a silk purse from this sow's ear.  If they believe in a title, it'll go to Orbit, but for works that they feel so-so about, those will be published under the Orbit Works imprint, and that means it's going to get a bad reputation for poor quality.  

So what DOES Orbit Works do for an author?
  • Cover design

  • Editing

  • Distribution

  • Marketing

  • Audiobook production
As for the first two, self-published authors are already doing this now, and they can pick the artists they want and editors who they vet.  I'm not confident that, given how little Orbit is investing in these titles they are going to pull out all the stops for books for this imprint.  As for distribution, Oribit Works isn't going to have anything that isn't already available to self-published authors. Now, if they were doing print runs and brick-and-mortar selling, THEN they would have a leg up, but they already said they aren't doing this.  As for marketing, the sad truth is traditional publishing does next to no promotion for a large % of their titles, so why would they do a great deal for this second-rate imprint?  

On the last point, it is true that audiobook production is expensive, but self-published authors don't have to pay that for themselves. As I mentioned previously, there are a ton of self-published authors who receive audio contracts from the likes of Audible Studios, Podium Publishing, Tantor, Recorded Books, Dreamscape, and more. Not only do these companies pay for all the production costs, but they also provide advances - which Oribit Works does not.

To make matters worse, the head of this imprint recently posted on Twitter: 

This doesn't bode well.  Anyone who knows anything about the Lit RPG market knows that (a) they have been completely snubbed by publishing, (b) agents won't touch them with a ten-foot pole, and (c) there are a large number of authors that are pulling in many hundreds of thousands of dollars doing a rapid release of these types of books.  

So to answer Brit's question. The reason you don't have submissions is no one will buy these works, so agents don't sign authors who write these books. If you are trying to put forth that YOU want to be the imprint to break that mode, well, the structure of your compensation won't cut the mustard. IF you were making a REAL competitive offer for these kinds of works, you'd be coughing up some extremely high advances, and even then, most LitRPG people would turn them down because Orbit's lack of knowledge of this subgenre doesn't bode well for a "good" launch of a title in this space.  For instance, most LitRPG readers are using Kindle Unlimited (a subscription service - the Netflix of books), and with a few exceptions, traditional publishers don't release their books through that program. 

Hey, I get it.  There are self-published authors who are absolutely "killing it," and Orbit has its eyes on getting their hooks into that money. They are right to take LitRPG seriously - there is tons of money being made in a subgenre that is virtually non-existent in traditional publishing. But trying to do so with contract terms that are custom-made for the most desperate of all authors means they'll get what they pay for.  The authors who write well will continue self-publishing, and all you'll get are the truly desperate (and generally untalented authors) that would fail if self-published because their work is substandard. In other words, if all you are looking to do is pick the low-hanging fruit, you are likely to find that you have to pick up the rotting produce, and no one wants to eat that.

Anyway that's my two cents worth.

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