I asked Sarah if I could have the blog today because, frankly, I’ve been sitting on my hands and biting my tongue most of the week. What started as a simple and heart-felt response on Sarah’s part to a non-fiction author’s blog post turned into a war between fiction and non-fiction with a troll to-boot. The non-fiction author couldn’t understand why Sarah had seen fit to post about what she’d said on her own blog. All she’d done, you see, was lament the state of publishing and how those of us who are predicting the end of the industry just don’t understand what that will mean to non-fiction authors or readers. Okay, I can understand the fear. It’s the same fear many authors on the fiction side of the equation have been feeling. But what this author didn’t get — or wouldn’t get — is that in the process of all her lamenting and cries of outrage, she insulted fiction writers. According to her, and I am paraphrasing here, we can pull plots out of our butts and we don’t research. And that, my friends, is where the line was drawn in then sand and things got heated over a series of different posts on different sites.
But that isn’t what had me wanting to put the metaphorical pen to paper today. No, it was the fact that this author simply didn’t understand the options now available to her. She had already decided that the self-published or small press route to digital simply wouldn’t work for “serious” non-fiction. In other words, just like the guard outside Project X in Atlas Shrugged, she didn’t want to make a decision that could, in the author’s case, save her literary life.
In this, she isn’t alone. Authors from fiction and non-fiction have been facing this decision with increasing frequency. They have been told by their agents and their publishers for years that self-publishing is the kiss of death to their professional careers. They’ve bought into the fiction that legacy publishers add value to their work and that is why publishers get the donkey share of monies from each sale. They’ve turned a blind eye to the creative ways of reporting royalties because legacy publishing was the only game in town. They jumped on the bandwagon of condemning Amazon for the KDP program and snickered when some of their peers decided to go that route.
Now, with advances shrinking faster than a cotton t-shirt in hot water and indie authors starting to make money, these same authors who had been so comfortable on the legacy publishing bandwagon are getting scared. They have bought into the company line for so long, they can repeat it verbatim without thinking or blinking an eye. They are starting to see the problems in the industry, but they simply can’t, or won’t, look to see how the new opportunities presented to authors can help them.
And that is where I want to just shake them.
Don’t get me wrong. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. Not every writer wants or can handle every aspect of publishing a book, be it digital or hard copy or both. But for those who don’t want to do it all themselves, there are small presses out there, presses that will give the author a much larger cut of the pie than the legacy publishers will. And yet authors are still buying into the line that going small press is as bad as self-publishing. It means you are no longer a “pro” author.
I’m not going to repeat their arguments. I’ve talked about them before, as have Sarah, Dave and Kate. Just check the MGC archives.
No, what gets to me is how these authors do their imitation of that guard in Atlas Shrugged. When faced with having to either let Dagny Taggart enter the building or have her shoot him, he cries out, “Who am I to decide? I’m not supposed to decide!”. He was more terrified of facing the possibility of having to think and act on his own, without someone telling him what to do than he was of losing his life. This wasn’t a case of a man doing his duty. Far from it. He had become one of those for whom it was much easier to simply let another do the thinking for him and who simply couldn’t come to a decision on his own without guidance.
That is what so many authors remind me of right now. The non-fiction author lamenting what would happen to her career and the careers of all non-fiction authors if legacy publishing should fail is one. Instead of looking at how the new interactive e-books and e-book apps could help spread her work among readers, she was huddling in her chair, saying we had won. We, the fiction authors who don’t have to work at writing a book the way non-fiction authors do, who were destroying the industry through our push toward self-publishing and small press publishing.
Then you have the fiction authors who continue to cling to the myth that legacy publishers actually add the majority of value to a book. Why else would they continue to sign contracts where they, the creator of the work, get less than half the monies paid for that title? You’ll find them parroting the publishing arguments about how Amazon has destroyed the bookstore business and how e-books have destroyed the hard copy sales, etc. You don’t find them talking about how the influx of the big box bookstores destroyed the locally owned bookstores or how the poor business management and over-expansion of the big box stores then caused their own downfall.
But it is the arguments we are seeing now against the proposed settlement in the price fixing collusion case against Apple and five of the big six publishers. Between the “well, even if they did collude, it was for the greater good” and the “but no one was injured” arguments, I find myself wondering how these supposedly intelligent people can figure out how to put one foot in front of the other without tripping. These are the same comments and arguments we have seen from the heads of the publishing companies named in the suit. All these writers are doing is parroting what they have been told by their editors and agents. They aren’t thinking for themselves, much less weighing their own options and making informed decisions about what is best for their careers. Instead, they are asking “Who am I to decide?”
I know I shouldn’t be surprised by this sort of group mind-think. After all, many of these are the same authors who have written what their editors and agents have told them to write because “it’s what is selling”. Of course, what sells today, may not sell in two or three years, the length of time it would take to write, edit and then bring out in hard copy via a legacy publisher. These are the same authors who haven’t screamed to high heaven when their publishers started adding clauses into their contracts requiring them to write only for that publisher, or to at least give that publisher the right of first refusal. These are the same authors who have sat by and watched their royalties be estimated based on inaccurate figures from BookScan.
For me, I at least want to retain the right to decide what route I go. To do that, I have to educate myself to what the possibilities are and what the advantages and disadvantages of the various options happen to be. To blindly follow a route simply because it is what someone has told me to do isn’t something I have ever been able to do, at least not easily. I ask questions and “just because this is how it’s always been done” or “this is what has worked in the past” isn’t reason enough to do something.
So, when I ask myself the question that guard asked Dagny, “who am I to decide?”, I know the answer. I am the only who can decide and to do so, I need to know the options and the pros and cons of each. It is up to me and me alone to make sure I’ve gotten the information I need. I can go to other sources, but then I have to weigh the veracity of those sources and determine what their bias might be when giving me the information I’ve asked for. My bias in giving you information about self-publishing is simple: I believe it is a viable option for any author who is willing to put in the time and effort it requires. But, as I’ve said a number of times, it isn’t for everyone. For those who are looking for an alternative to traditional publishing but who don’t want to do all the “business” of publishing, then you should look at the small presses. But if you want the cachet that some still assign to traditional publishing, then by all means go for it. But make a decision based on information, not emotion. And, for your sake as well as your family’s, before signing with a traditional publisher, make sure you have an IP attorney vet your contract. Otherwise, you may never see the rights to your book again.
Who am I to decide?
The only one who should.