Sunday, November 27, 2011

Authors vs. Publishers: It's a Revolution

A couple of weeks ago, I was cornered after a speaking appearance by a publisher who poked me in the chest repeatedly while saying, “You should be writing. You shouldn’t be publishing. Let me do the work. You write.”
Well, that was what I started out wanting to do. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. From the beginning, I dreamed of making it to the point in my career where I could stay home all day in my writer’s studio and do nothing but think about murder and write my mysteries.
But something happened to that dream as happens to all dreams. It was a fantasy. It is not the reality. The lack of this happening is not a reflection on my talent or writing ability. Rather, it is a reflection on how the publishing world works.
The truth is: Unless you’re Stephen King, Dan Brown, or J.K. Rowlings, the publishers are only going to throw you the scraps when it comes from the profits of your books. The rest will go to them, the literary agents, and publicists. If you want anyone to know about your book, you will need to spend your advance and beyond, plus your time and energy on marketing it, because the publisher isn’t going to do it for you—unless you’re one of their top one percent selling authors.
Then, to thank you for all your hard work, they take over ninety-percent.
So, writers started thinking, “Hey, since I’m going to have to do all the work anyway to make my book a success, why not publish it myself and; instead of eating scraps, help myself to the filet mignon?”
Signs of the revolution can be seen in the success of self-publishing companies like CreateSpace, iUniverse, and LuLu. Saying, “I don’t need you anymore,” more authors are turning their backs on literary agents who a few years ago read their query letters for laughs. 
The funny thing is, I have found that I’m good at publishing my own books. Not only am I good at it. I like doing it.
Yes, instead of spending my days thinking about murder and writing mysteries, I’ve been beating the drum to change the course of publishing. From the looks of things, independent authors are gaining territory:
  • Barry Eisler turned down a half million dollar advance to renew his contract in favor of self-publishing.
  • Penquin Books has dived into self-publishing. That must have caused quite a stir among their fellow big publisher buddies.
  • Independent author, Amanda Hocking has sold more than a million books online with Kindle, joining the ranks of Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, and other traditionally published authors.
So much for self-published authors being second rate hacks.  Tell Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler that they’re wannabees.
This is not to say that I think traditional publishers should go away. I have as much respect for an agented author who publishes through Random House as I do an independent author who puts in all the work into self-publish through LuLu.
Aimply, I expect the same respect from that author, his agent, and his publisher … and others in the literary arena.
Yes, many in the literary arena still think of independent authors as second-class writers:
  1. Many conferences refuse to let us sit on their author panels simply because we’ve invested in our own books.
  2. Most of the big literary magazines will only review our books if we pay them hundreds of dollars for the privilege of them doing so, which diminishes credibility among many of our peers.
  3. Some of the bigger bookstore chains (Barnes and Nobel and Books-A-Million) still won’t let us hold events in their stores, even after our books have proven themselves with reviews and sales.
Yes, some days, these injustices do irk at me. When it does, I think back on a quote by Theodore Roosevelt:
“Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”
How about that, dear authors? We’re halfway there!


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