Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trouble in The Shack

Several times over the last few years when talking about self-publishing, I've mentioned The Shack as an example of a novel that owes its success to niche marketing:
A niche market, IMHO, is a much smaller venue where you will be readily recognized, welcomed and accepted without judgment. In other words, where you have credibility—either earned on your own or borrowed from someone who HAS earned credibility.

A perfect example of what I’m talking about is the recently published best-seller The Shack. Author William P. Young wrote the small book as evidence of his Christian faith and to inspire his family and friends. He showed it to a well-known Christian writer who introduced him to a well-known pastor. The three decided to self-publish the thin volume after Young could not interest a major publishing house.

While Young had no credibility in the Christian market himself, his two partners did. They sent copies of The Shack to influential Christian friends, tapping into the niche market to which they were already connected. Word-of-mouth spread and book sales grew. People bought copies for their friends who, in turn, referred the book to their own friends. The book has been a phenomenal success, and the Hachette Book Group has now secured the rights. (post from August 8, 2008)
Sarah Weinman has an article in today's Los Angeles Times here about the not-so-happily-after-ever ending of The Shack's success.

In November, William Paul Young went to Ventura County State Court where he sued his partners, Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, who counter-sued him. Young also included Hachette and Windblown, the partner's self-publishing company, in his lawsuit. And Hachette has gotten into the act, filing its own lawsuit in federal court. Hachette argues that the proper venue for these suits is federal court. I assume this is because federal law governs copyright.
For nearly eight months, the trio have been mired in a series of lawsuits, accusations flying over improper accounting practices, millions of dollars in missing royalties, contract breaches and copyright disputes. Hachette, meanwhile, just wants to know to whom it owes money — and how much.
Young's deal with Windblown gives him an author's royalty of a dollar each for hardcover copies of The Shack and 50 cents for paperback copies. This is a lower-than-usual author's royalty. However, he also earns a third of the net profits of Windblown.

According to Weinman, Young is complaining that Windblown, Hachette and his partners "got 'more and more creative' in determining his royalties, including an attempt to exclude nearly 40% of sales by designating them 'high discount sales,' such as those earned from book clubs or giveaway programs."

For their part, Jacobsen and Cummings are claiming that they had to do so much editing of the manuscript they originally saw that they deserve co-author credit.

Stay tuned ...


edwin said...

Interesting that the problems have little to do with the book itself, it's sales or its continued marketability. It might even be said that the problems seem to stem from the books success, and the fact that it is making money to be fought over.

Maya Reynolds said...

Edwin: Thanks for your comment.

You're on target. Today's Publishers Marketplace had this to say: "Young calculates that through the end of 2008 The Shack "had generated over $36 million in profits" for the publishers."