The Roses are Dead (Too Much Manure in Publishing)

Stinking socksThese are the things people will tell you that you’re passing up if you don’t sign on the traditional line, and I’m calling it. It’s bullshit. Seriously stinky stuff, and a lot of people don’t know, so here’s my post.

This is the stuff that’s been spread far and wide by the publishing industry for years and most of it is BS. I’m gonna be blunt, b/c you’re assuming the grass is greener on the other side, but they don’t even have grass over there. Things are that messed up.

An advance against royalties – Have you heard how many of our peers didn’t get paid? They entered into a multi book deal like you were offered and well, the pub didn’t think book 1 went very well, so books 2 & 3 were cancelled. No money for you.
There’s the appearance of stability when working with a publisher, but they cannot offer you job security. All of a sudden, your 3 book, 6-figure deal ends up earning you $30K over 2 years and you want to poke your eye out with a fork. True story – just not mine, thank god. Ask around.

Passing up Print distribution.
PRINT IS DEAD. There’s no money in print. Why do you think the big 5.5 are buying up Indie ebooks? Why don’t we see the stores stocked with these titles? Where’d they go? I know for a fact that one publisher’s plan was to acquire enough Indies to release 70+ new titles in one season and NOT PRINT A THING. But that’s not what they told me. Print is dead and the pubs are noticing that isn’t where the money is. Which is also why you’re getting any guarantee of a print run when you sign that six figure deal.

My books will not be in bookstores.
Mine are and have been since day 1. If enough ppl ask for your book, they will order your book.

My books are likely never to be found in a library.
Also, not true. If enough ppl (usually 6 or so) ask for your book, they will buy your book, Indie or not.

I will never have an editor who will work with me to develop the book and the follow-ups because she loved it enough to acquire it for her house.
Bwuahahhaha! I’m sorry, but you’re assuming that they know better than you. Dude, they’re part of a dying breed, and they’re dying b/c they don’t want to change. No one jumps up and down and screams, “oooh, ooooh! pick me!” to be the next casualty of the publishing industry.

I gave up the chance to grow as an author under their (NY editor’s) tutelage.
Again, they can’t tell their ass from their elbow and you’re gonna look really weird at parties trying to sit on the wrong one.

A team of marketing and publicity experts with contacts.
FAKE! Guess what? The experts are few and far between. If the market has shifted to primarily selling intangible goods and you have a panel of ppl who rock at selling paper, then you have a serious problem. The experts aren’t there. They’ll put you on a mailing list with 2K subscribers that’s WAY past it’s heyday, and then tell you to buy a bookbub ad (on your dime.)

Authors are expected to market themselves, traditionally published or Indie. If you fail, even after being picked up by one of the big boys, it’s your fault. It’s never their fault. That’s not the kind of people you want to work with. Ever read an article where the publisher goes, “Our marketing effort just didn’t connect with readers.” It’s always the author under-performed, or the title couldn’t cross over to print.

The branding a big name publisher can provide.
They have no idea how to do this. The authors who have brands sold scads of books and the pubs rode coattails. You make your brand. You ARE your brand. This is one of those shiny things they dangle to get you to sign, and then you find out it was never there. How do you market intangible goods (goods you can’t touch)? I know, and I’m very aware that they do not.

I gave up the opportunity to learn from marketing and publicity experts as well.
No, you didn’t. When a big publisher did research on serials, guess who they looked at? When the publishers want to check the market to see what unexpected stuff is going on, do you really think they’re looking at each other? No, they’re looking at us – Indies. Why? Because we take more risks, and understand the market better b/c we have to. They still get paid even if they’re sitting on their elbows. We don’t eat if we don’t sell our stuff. Poverty is a motivator–it’s a bonus really.

I gave up being branded alongside bestselling authors who have been publishing for many years and have many readers.
I’ve had the big 5 come to me (after refusing over $1.5 million in contracts) to ask me to blurb their book. I’m 100% Indie and pretty much told them that they have no idea how to do anything when I turned them down. They still came asking. You are in good company, and we tend to be more forthright and supportive.

I am less likely to ever make a national bestseller list.
Everyone says that. Statistically, this is inaccurate as the list has been taken over by Indies. As an Indie, you’re more likely to make a list IMHO. You have complete control.

I am less likely to sell my other rights, such as audio and foreign translation. Some might counter that I can self-publish my books in audio form, but this is now much more difficult due to recent changes in royalties provided the primary providers of indie Audiobooks, ACX.
Don’t even get me started on ACX, but to counter your point – you WILL get audio offers for your book. They’ll be around $1K, b/c ‘audio just isn’t worth that much.’ Which is BS. Take it if you want or do it yourself and use a different platform. There’s more than just ACX out there. You will get offers on foreign too. Take it if you want. They will find you.

I have most likely lost the chance to sell movie rights.
Not true. Several indies sold film rights.

I may have damaged my chances to become a hybrid author.
Hybrid is a term that the industry made up so they won’t get left behind. They want you to think they’re relevant and still have something to offer. They don’t.

When I walked away from my auction offers, I was told, point-blank, that I would be a “hard sell” to any New York editor after this.
That’s bullshit. Money talks. See above reference of me blowing them off and then being asked to blurb a book 2 weeks later. That was a pressure tactic and it’s BS.

The cachet of being associated with a big publisher. Being invited to publisher parties at big writers conferences. Networking with industry professionals in a concentrated setting and with a common goal in mind. Being sent on book tours or participating in book signings.
You can still do that and laugh at them as you walk by b/c you’re making more money and have more freedom. Ta ta!

If I ever accept a NY contract, I’ll never be marketed as a “debut author.”
They wanted to mark me as a ‘debut’ author after publishing 40+ books. I don’t think that’s a good thing. It’s the newB stamp.

I have lost the opportunity for a traditional publishing house to establish a brand for me.
You said this twice. THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL THEY INTENDED ON MAKING A BRAND FOR YOU. Branding things is difficult, branding people is even harder. That’s not what they do. They know how to print paper and they’re abandoning that in an attempt to remain relevant.

I have no idea who got under your skin, but most of these concerns are BS fed to Indies by agents and editors. It’s a sales technique called ‘fear of loss’ – look at everything you gave up by leaving us. Meanwhile, they’re telling you about the Indie side of things and they have no clue. A dog can’t say what it’s like to live as a cat, you get me?

Pay attention to where you hear things. This is part of them tainting the market and making us afraid so we’ll sign away our rights for a song. They’re taking advantage of people and it’s wrong.

It’s hard to make an ‘informed’ decision when the trads are blowing so much smoke up our butts. Seriously.

To those who trad-pubbed and signed on the line, I’m not slamming you. People have to do what they have to do, but please be aware that the industry is crumbling and there are so many false concepts and things that will be offered if you only ‘sign here! Sign now! Don’t wait!’ If anyone treats you like that, run the other way. Fast.

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78 thoughts on “The Roses are Dead (Too Much Manure in Publishing)

  1. I love this post.

    You could add this one, if you’d like: “Let your publisher take care of the hard stuff, and you’ll have more time to write!”

    False on two counts. First, getting covers and formatting and uploading are NOT the “hard stuff.” Writing and revising are. Second, a publisher demands a lot of time from you, and always on their timetable, not yours. (“We need those galleys back in a week!”) After I fired my agent, I realized I had more time to write, not less. Dealing with agent man was sucking up time, energy and life.

  2. Reminds me of The Girl Next Door Syndrome: You ignore the Girl Next Door until someone else starts dating her; then you realize how hot she is and want her for yourself.

  3. This is fantastic! I especially like the comment about the hybrid author. Hadn’t thought of that as a defense mechanism like that.

  4. This sounds a little angry, but it’s such a wonderful, wonderful blog post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    • Annoyed or irritated is more spot on. I don’t like seeing ppl being taken advantage of and if no one talks about it, no one knows.

  5. Thank you for this. It’s difficult to tune out all the noise currently making the rounds. This is a realistic commentary especially for those of us in the beginning phase of dipping our toe in the water. It helps to calm my newbie nerves and remind me to go back into the writing cave.

  6. Awesome post, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with this stuff. All of the ego-validation-hierarchy b.s. drives me crazy in trad publishing, and I love how indies seem to be both democratizing that and also showing it for the smoke and mirrors it really is.

  7. Nice!

    Six months ago I still wondered if I wanted to be a “hybrid” author. That fantasy feels more and more like drinking the Kool-Aid.

    Thanks for this post.

    I was with one of the bigger digital publishers and they were slowing down my releases. I had just started to gain momentum, and they wanted to wait a year. Lucky for me, they had no right to first refusal. Best decision of my career! I made the USA Today list three times last year and I know I would not have done it with a publisher.
    I agree. I hate seeing new authors being sucked into the idea they HAVE to be with a traditional publisher or they can’t make money or build a career.

  9. Whoa, don’t hold back, Holly! :-)

    Seriously, glad to hear it said so clearly from a successful indie writer. As someone who just snuck into the Top 100 Kindle bestseller list myself (briefly!) I am having a fabulous time making my own career as an indie author. It’s a lot of work, but the creative control is worth it.

    Thanks for this, and carry on.


  10. Great post.
    The last trad pub contract I signed for a children’s book came with a five page questionnaire asking how I was going to help market the book. Nearly took me as long to fill it in as it did to write the book! Then just prior to publication they cancelled the deal together with several other authors’ books. At least I got a kill fee out of it.

  11. While much of what you say rings true for many fiction authors and especially those writing edgier genres, nonfiction and some other genres still depend on print copies in stores for 50-80% of their sales, and so a traditional publisher can be helpful.

    Disclosure: I manage WestBow Press, a hybrid service provider for publishing inspirational books.

    • bwuhahaha. angry is the wrong word. defensive is more like it. i hate seeing good ppl getting bent over.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was just recently contacted by a publisher and I wondered why I should bother with them considering how happy I was with everything as it was on my own. Your timing couldn’t be better

  13. As as published author of two mainstream books with large houses and a revision due out in May, I a. ‘T tell you how well this blog post resonates . I am so done with conventional publishing. Thanks for your perspective! All accurate, by my own experience.

  14. I loved your post and it seems so relevant for an industry that is changing so rapidly. I’m an American who lives in Colombia. I have a railroading memoir and a novel ready to publish but, living so far from the USA, I am perplexed about what route to take, other than ebook. The logistics of getting published seem daunting from OUS.

    I will appreciate any thoughts you might care to share.

  15. Just awesome. I was having wobbles about self-pubbing… but now, I’m not. This backs up all the info I gathered from two days I spent in London last summer.

    I know not everyone will sell 000s and NYT bestseller lists, but I bet I’ll have more fun and a greater sense of accomplishment along the way. :)

    Thank you.


    • The point is that you don’t have to sell tons and hit lists. Lists don’t matter. They’re a status symbol and nothing else. By the time you hit a list, you already sold the books. It’s like an afterthought. I did well when no one knew my name. Midlisters can earn a lot in indie publishing.

  16. Great post – I really like the approach. I’ve been trad. published for years in a different genre (and continue to be) but when it came time to switch genres to historical fiction, it’s indie all the way for me! I know what publishers can do for you – and not do. Indie is so much more exhilarating and, ultimately, more profitable. Just be prepared to work hard – but you’re working hard regardless of whether you trad publish or indie publish and at least with indie you see more and better results much much more quickly.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re always going to work hard and no one works harder for you and your writing than you do. True story. :)

  17. Great article, but it’s easy to be so outspoken and irreverent when you’re already at the top of the pile.
    ‘Tis true that indies and self-pubs are changing the way the book biz operates, but for most of us, the sales, fortune and fame will not be a reality – no matter the format.
    Yet, in light of, and in spite of this, I will continue my work, and hang onto the dream!

    • I wasn’t on the top of the pile until last year. I spent 2 years earning a good living from writing. Their offers and these things were still BS, even then. BTW, lots of ppl say it’s easy to turn down an offer when you have money. I had none. We were living pay check to pay check then and it was the scariest decision I ever made.

  18. All very good points and spoken from experience, BUT success is vastly increased by writing romance. I don’t read romance, so writing it doesn’t interest me. My books are lost in the vast self-publishing world, probably never to be found. Yet, I had a friend who wrote a mediocre romance with the obligatory three sex scenes, slapped a provocative cover on it, and it went viral. For those of us who write well and with substance, this is beyond depressing.

    • My first SEVEN romance books flopped. I don’t think romance has anything to do with it. I started in YA Paranormal. Imagine writing 7 books and none of them do anything. If you back track through the blog, you’ll see my mistakes. Hindsight is 20/20. I fixed it and it took off. Yes, chosing a genre is important. My fav genre is YA PNR Dystopian, but those 5 ppl already read all my stuff. :) I think non fic, sci fi, fantasy, etc all have a good playing feild too. Just dont box yourslef in too tight within a microscpopic genre.

  19. Bravo – I went Indie a few months ago and it confirmed all the things you state. You can’t get to the top of the pile if you stay on your knees. But the top of the pile is a myth – just write the best book ever – it will find its way. And one other myth? The nonsense about ‘platform’. Again -write the best book ever – the rest will follow.
    Thanks for such a great piece!

  20. The “spirit” of this is largely correct and of course fun and funny. I think it overstates the indie side, mainly because it is your experience and that of successful indies. It is anecdotal, not a deep analysis. Still, it provides indies with hope.

    The problem is that not all indies are as wildly successful as you. Bill Gates was a college drop out, showing college drop outs can become wildly successful, yet neither he, nor others, say that dropping out of college is the best thing to do. It is, rather, sometimes the right thing to do.

    The publishers are certainly trading on FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). You call them out on it and you are correct. Let’s just NOT say the grass is ALWAYS green on this side either. I know you don’t, but in case that is the feeling–get ready for some hard work as an indie, especially if you write in a genre that is less popular than romance.

    • I was nobody before I was somebody. I had 7 failed romance books before I became the queen of NA. I wouldn’t try to copy that part. The part to copy is the refusal to give up. I became the next ‘rock star’ as soon as I accepted I’d never be one. Fun times.

  21. I’m glad I ran across this. Thank you for the boost of self-esteem. This is inspiration fot us Indie authors. I may not know (or have been in the game) as much as you, but I know enough to agree 100%. Thank you.

  22. Excellent post. Thanks for sharing your valuable experiences with us fellow indie authors. I’ve published 5 books independently now, and always have that dream of a traditional publisher in the back of my mind. Sending out hundreds of queries and proposals is daunting and time consuming. If I had waited for someone to hand me a contract, I would have had to wait years for readers to meet my characters. I’m glad that I made the choice to do it on my own. Thanks once again.

    K.N. Lee

  23. I do NOT wish to be disagreeable – but I found your “article” to be better described as a “rant”. I’m sure you have a few good points to make, but (in my opinion) perhaps you might have gone over it before posting it.
    I do understand high dander (god knows I have been known to indulge in it) . . . but when one puts it to print, (i.e. engraves it in stone) it reflects on you FOR EVER!
    Perhaps it would help to keep that in mind (“feste na lente.”)
    Just a gentle word of advise from an old man.
    Best wishes, (and please don’t be offended) . . .

  24. Great article, definitely rebellious and I applaud you. I am definitely leaning towards indie authorship now. But two very realistic facts do remain that are begging to be stated as much as your characters are begging for sensual oil on their tender bits: 1) You’re blatantly using sex and filth to sell your indie books and primarily to female horny toads, really just a notch-up from porn, really. Write intelligent literary masterpieces be it fact or fiction where nobody is fucking and let’s see how good you do then. 2) Self-publishing is expensive for the average person and most indie authors have to take out big loans in order to continue promoting their book(s) and sadly many never succeed beyond quitting their full-time job to make ends meet. The book market is going to be flooded with successful indie books written by acceptable authors that focus on one main ingredient: HOT SEX, and sorry, that’s simply not a benchmark for real talent.

  25. This is a very inspiration piece but I’m wondering how the book stores and libraries (especially the libraries) went about purchasing your books w/o them being registered in the archives of the Library of Congress? Many librarians tell me that unless you’re in the catalog they are not permitted to purchase your book. Could you elaborate on this for me?

    • No idea. Someone provided a link to worldcat and my books are there. I know a few local librarians and they wanted books for kids. I recommended a bunch. You can get into libraries or anywhere else. A fan sent me pics of an HM WARD display in a book store. Talk about a head scratcher.

  26. Self publishing allowed me to retire my Excel Spread Sheet of Doom listing all the Literary Agents and Pub Houses I’d queried and the date of their negative reply, so I will be eternally grateful. One of the most interesting things you talk about in this post is that self pubs and Indies have revived the mid-list. I’m glad for it – not everyone will be a best seller, there is talent and timing, and some luck required to propel an author to the top. But I think as the industry settles out, there will once again be room for more authors in the middle, making a decent living at telling stories.

    The other funny, completely true subject is the fact that the marketing gurus in Traditional Publishing are few and reserved for the top echelon. I did have a few brushes, ‘almost’ moments, with some of the big houses years ago and I always took a look at the staff of the pub house that was interested in me. A little research into the marketing staff inevitably revealed they were 22 years old with a recent degree in geology.

  27. Fantastic zingy post! I love your attitude and telling it like the rest of us are discovering through trial and error. Thanks for the short-cut to truth through experience. One thing’s for sure, it makes a huge difference which genre you go for, whether it fits the way you see the world, and how hard you’re prepared to work. Learning through the work is what sees me through.
    Author of The Domino Deaths and still learning.

  28. Pingback: Types of publishing

  29. Thanks for this piece. It reiterates my experience with many publishers, including threats, abuse and an astonishing lack of insight and market knowledge. Very impressed with your story…. and greatly appreciative you took the time to speak of it, and the time to advise all about a traditional industry that truly is collapsing, with no one but their elite pretentious club of experts to blame. Experts, my ass!

  30. What a great post! Thank you. As someone who is wanting to write and self publish a book this was such an eye opener. Thanks again, and this has made me want to read your books! Cheers mate xx

  31. I’m living proof of the truth in this post. I found myself going the traditional route when I was approached in 2012 to do a book based on my tech blog. I was promised an advance to write it, which never came, and even though the book has now been out since mid-2013, in both print and digital formats, I have yet to see a penny.

  32. Thank you for your bluntness. I closed my business and began to follow my passion – historical fiction. I have just published my third in the Juno Letters series, working on the fourth, planning the fifth. I spent 40 years in technology, and saw the writing on the wall (sorry – couldn’t help the pun). As any traditional business model crumbles, the old guard gets very desperate. Went through it with Desktop Publishing, networks in pre-internet, telephony, and more. Desperation signals opportunity. I am developing my own brand, my own style, and my own rules.

  33. “But it’s so easy when I sign with a publisher. My hard work is done.” Right? No way, as you’ve deftly (with a hammer) pointed out. The writing, editing, cover art picking, is the easy/fun part…until you get to marketing, branding, selling, connecting. Wouldn’t you rather sell yourself (your honest self with your book) vs. counting on someone else to sell you? I know I do and I’m working my first book now. Long, Long ways to go, which is why I’m in the game. It’s a business and it can be a good one.

    Thanks for the great article.

  34. Thanks for the article. I’m writing a narrative memoir about an adventure in music fifty years ago. From the beginning I knew for a number of reasons I’d be forced to self-pub. After more than three years of research, retraining myself to become an author from simply a writer, and working every day on Things We Lost In The Night, I’m nearing the end of the final draft, and I can hardly wait. I’ve got my own little publishing imprint and I’m looking for the most professional editor I can find (who understands self-pub). The only thing I’d like is to have better access to peers for blurb recommendations. The majors all have their Rolodexes full of best selling authors who pump each other up. It’s the only thing missing; why can’t we find someway to offer that for well-written indie authors? I’ll certainly offer to do that for books I respect, if I’m successful enough to help others.
    I’m sharing your column through my network and writing groups. You rock!

  35. Inspiring article! I’m a Brit living in France, writing historical fiction (except the stories happen to be factual if told in a fictionalised voice.) Promoting my two indie books from France is uphill work, struggling on a computer, and although I know the stories are worthwhile the whole business is depressingly slow, probably because I’m inept at this sort of thing! I’d love to believe the writer who said a good book will find its own way… (hopefully before I fall off my perch!!)

  36. I’m still pretty new to this whole business, and I have to say, this may be one of the first good things I’ve seen about not publishing with a traditional publisher. It’s hard (as I’m sure everyone here already knows) figuring everything out when you’re just starting, especially where to go and what to do once you’re ready to start thinking about sharing your work. This article def made me reconsider Indie publishing, and I will hopefully be able to find more helpful instructions on how to go about it. Thanks for speaking your mind!

  37. Thank you for your blog. I’ve been writing in various fields for years, but I have never written a novel–’till now. I’m on the cusp of finishing a 600+ page manuscript (took 3 years–it’s a sci-fi/historical drama) and have been so neurotic about the publishing world, I’ve let no one look at the manuscript. After reading your comments, all I can say is ‘you’re a kindred spirit.’ Keep up the honesty–a breath of fresh air in an industry that appears to be a complete mess. It’s hard to know who to trust these days.

  38. Couldn’t have put it better myself. So spot on and encouraging for those indies who are perhaps starting to flag/reconsider their decision. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but the indie community is there to guide you every step of the way and will help you reach places that publishers can only dream about.

  39. Spot on. 100% dead-nuts in the crosshairs spot on. One small addition, and that would be the requisite quest for an agent.

    In today’s world of the publishing cartel, an agent is part of the parasitic process. One more unmarried marriage counselor to siphon hard-earned money out of your royalties and into their designer handbag.

    Twenty-plus years ago, literary agents often had an education in business (ie dollars and sense) or they were semi-retired editors. If you look at the “backgrounds” of today’s typical literary agent fresh out of college, they all have graduate degrees in language arts with their graduate work typically in an obscure genre or one so narrowly defined that even the publishing cartel itself would be hard-pressed to find (or create) a niche market for it.

    And then these agents become the guardians of the kingdom, deeming what passes across their desks to either be worthy or unworthy of consumption by the masses.

    Agents work on their schedule–not yours. They work on their terms–not yours. They decide what YOUR readers will like–not you or your readers.

    The truly good agents are worth the commission you pay them. Problem is, the truly good agents are retiring en masse because they’ve made their money and they’ve seen the writing on the wall (pun intended) so far as the Big 6 is concerned.

    That leaves the unmarried marriage counselors who’ve never written anything more substantial than a form rejection letter to guard the kingdom.

    And the industry seriously ponders why it is in the state it is in?

    Each and every point you made is inarguable and irrefutable. One of the most enjoyable blog posts I’ve read in years.

  40. A great post that confirms I should have taken the step years ago. Thank you for delivering such great advice.

  41. You are spot on! I’ve signed the best of three contracts for my first book. No advance, but no expense on my part either. It’s the only one that hasn’t paid me a penny yet! The FIVE indie-published books I released afterwards are paying my bills. Now I’m sitting out my contract, waiting for the day when I can get my rights back. Traditional Publishing is nothing but a poison wrapped in bubblegum flavor coating, with a big ‘Eat Me’ sticker on top. Don’t fall for it.

  42. I object to the use of the term ‘trad publishing’ throughout, though it continues to be standard. It’s corporate publishing we’re talking about here. Insofar as traditional publishing continues to exist, it does so in some independent houses which, should they show any hint of being successful, are bought out and subsumed into the corporate model.

    Other than that, I agree with everything. Stuck in their own corporate idiom, the majors are now trying to sell literature as if it were tins of beans, which is ridiculous. Ironically, in so many ways, that places them in direct competition with independent authors swamping the market with their work, merely adding to the deluge, undermining the kudos attached to their name, their own brand. It’s as if Rolls Royce were to stop making luxury cars and try to compete with a skateboard craze.

    The majors have the resources to elevate authors above the background noise of self-publishing but choose not to do it, thereby throwing away their own USP. If we’re seeing the death of major publishing right now then it’s not by natural causes. It’s suicide.

    • Fo shizzzle Pete. The term ‘trad pubbing’ came from Joe, us vs them. As much as I think it should be us working with them, ppl tend to think I’ve been smoking the roses when I’m talking like that. Whatever. Their loss.

  43. So grateful for this article. I have been thirsting for 1st hand knowledge of a successful Indie author. Thanks for the candid view into the trad vs. indie experience.

    I know the upfront expense is a concern, but I believe it’s the right way to go.

  44. Great post. The big 5 are still trying to convince writers they need their expertise and experience to make it. I wish more writers would come here and read this post or go over to kboards.

    Indie/self-published books are showing up in my local library every month. I asked my library to buy a couple titles and they purchased them quickly because they could see the books were popular on Amazon.

    I just purchased ‘The Secret life of Trystan Scott’ on Audible, I love listening to audiobooks