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Friday, December 9, 2011

Publishing: Cards on the Table

Publishing... there is nothing sane about the publishing industry. Probably because all the authors are a little crazy and when you build your business on crazy the end result is going to be screwy. It makes for great books, and horrible business models.

Most of the world ignores the publishing industry, aside from maybe being able to identify what an e-reader is. Don't ask them the difference between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing, too many people think the difference is Paperback vs. E-book. Feel free to cry a little over that fact.

For those of us in the industry in one way or another Publishing is a many-faceted alien creature that's always changing shape. We talk about trends, genres, awards, and the Who's Who, What's What of daily life. This is nothing to be ashamed of.

But there's an elephant in the room. A big, pink, furry elephant.

It's not that cute...

The big elephant in the room is seedy, backroom secrets of publishing. The houses that don't pay authors on time. The time lags between getting something signed and getting something done. The forgotten authors who are published in a flurry of forgetfullness and wishful thinking.

I've already talked about The Waiting Game on the blog, and I stand by that. Most of the time lag in publishing is in the editing/writing stages, but not all of it. The sad truth is that Big Publishing is staggering under the weight of tradition seemingly unable to pull their collective acts together and catch up with the 21st century. Some houses are doing better than others, but some seem unable to grasp the basic concepts of email, automated payments, or coherent communication.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an excellent article entitled How To Make Traditional Publishing Writer Friendly, and if you want to publish traditionally you need to read it. In the article Kristine highlights some major issues with how the game is currently played, including multi-book contracts and breaches of contract some authors are unaware of.

The biggest issue is that authors keep trying to define themselves as artists, but publishing is a business. Take a minute to wrap around your mind around that if you need to (and feel free to argue with me in the comments section). Authors are artists, we create a world, and we're pathetically grateful that someone - anyone! - has taken the time out of their busy schedule to give us some attention. The Publishing Industry is built around the idea the authors will stay humble and pathetically grateful and never realize 1) that they are not artists and 2) that there's no reason for authors to be pathetic, humble, or grateful.

Dude! Turn your ego up to full blast for a minute!

You've spent years working on this manuscript, perfecting every part, aiming for publication, working with one goal in mind and you think you should be grateful that you made it there? Really? How many Olympic athletes train for years, put their best foot forward, run their race, and then blush at the finish line because they're just So Grateful that the referee put a piece of tape there for them to break?

How many of you will go to your day jobs, work your butt off, boost company earnings, and not expect a paycheck? You aren't grateful the boss remembered to pay you. No! You earned that money.

And when you set out to write a book for publication you earn that too. Unless you are scribbling in crayon and trying to submit the book to Smashwords by shoving it in the CD drive, you earned that publication. You wrote the book. You did the research. You edited and polished. And the goal all along was publication. Underline on the word GOAL.

An artist creates art, an author working for publication is a business person who not only creates something wonderful, but also intends to market and sell that creation.

You may now turn your ego back to the factory-prescribed levels.

When Traditional Publishing was the only game in town authors had to suck it up and take the short end of the stick. It's not the only game anymore, it hasn't been for awhile.

Self-publishing is becoming a viable alternative, there are authors building careers in the self-publishing world and making it respectable one book at a time.

There's the small Indie presses, always around, usually quiet, they've made a play for a larger chunk of the e-market and my prediction is that there are several Indie publishers that won't be considered "small press" by the end of the decade. They have the momentum to be major players, and the have amazing authors working with them.

This gives authors leverage. If a contract isn't what an author wants, they have the power to walk away. There are considerations, but you know what, Kristine has it right: authors have the power to negotiate favorable contracts and they need to exercise that power.

As for me, I'm a scientist at heart. I'm self-publishing my short stories, I'm sending my novellas out to the small presses, and I still intend to send JANE DOE out to agents and try for traditional publishing. I'm not dabbling, I'm experimenting. Until I try out all the venues I won't be happy settling on just one. You need to decide what works for you, and don't go into a situation blind. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. If you want to be a Speshul Snowflake artist than sit at home and write in crayon. If you want to be a published author, learn the business, know the industry, and work for your goals.


  1. Great post! And thanks for the link to the the article too. This has been very helpful. I want to go traditional but definitely don't want to get into some of the contract horror stories I've heard.

  2. Angela- It all seems to boil down to the author's attitude and the contract. If you read the fine print and respectfully work for a fair contract you can have a very good experience. The people getting burned are the ones rushing in, signing things, and only asking questions later.

  3. Excellent Liana! I too have come to some conclusions. The first was that it was time to get rid of my agent as I watched the decline in areas of the traditional publishing world. And I couldn't agree more, authors NEED to understand that it is a business they are running and if you don't treat it as such, you will sink regardless of the route you decide to take.

    Thanks so much for the great post!