Today’s post is a very different one from the one I had originally planned. Instead of discussing the responses filed by the three remaining defendants to the Department of Justice’s price fixing law suit, I want to talk about something else. Something that should give every author out there who has been frustrated trying to break into publishing or frustrated by the changes in publishing. In other words, there is hope out there if you are willing to grab for it.
Last night I had the extreme pleasure of moderating a panel of five authors at our local library. These five women belong to the Trinity Writers Workshop and it was clear from the outset that their workshop is one of those that really works. Not only does it help them hone their craft but it has built friendships between them and their fellow workshop members that was very good to see, especially for those of us who have been in toxic workshops before.
What set these women apart was the fact that they have boldly embraced the changes in publishing, some of them before it became the thing to do. All but one of them have gone the self-publishing route, both in print and digitally. The one who hasn’t gone this route yet is about to because her publisher has fallen victim to the problems of the industry and no longer exists as an independent entity.
But what was so wonderful to see was how they proudly proclaimed themselves not only authors but self-published authors. After reading from their work, they took questions from the audience and handled them with humor even as they discussed some of the reasons they decided to go this route. But more on the reasons for their decisions later. These five women also did all they could to encourage any writers or wannabe writers to follow their dream.
That isn’t to say they didn’t have their own warning stories because they did. Frankly, I was glad they were willing to share them. Not only because they were things the writers in the audience who were still trying to break in needed to hear, but also because it was informative to the non-writers in the audience. The looks on the faces of those who have never had to consider the difference between what an author earns on a book published by a legacy publisher versus what that author would make if she published the book herself told a story all unto itself. The myth that an author gets at least as much per sale as the publisher was soundly shattered. When one of the authors talked about the lack of marketing and promotion by legacy publishers and how they expect you to pay for it yourself had just about everyone in the room shaking their heads, especially since that came on the heels of the royalty discussion.
Then there was the author who had submitted her novel to a small press. The press responded back to her that they were interested but that they just couldn’t publish it in the point of view it was currently written. (Sorry, I don’t remember if they wanted it changed from first to third or vice versa.) She did exactly what I would have done. She asked them several times just how interested they were in the book. They assured her they were very interested. So she changed the book along the lines they asked. This was a major rewrite. Then she sent it back to the publisher. But guess what, there was now another issue. She didn’t have a marketing plan. No marketing plan, no contract. So sorry.
Yep, marketing plan. Agents and publishers now want the author to have a marketing plan. There are agencies that will ask you when you query them to detail your marketing plan FOR THE BOOK THEY HAVEN’T YET AGREED TO REPRESENT. The first time I saw this with regard to an agency, I couldn’t quite figure it out. This agency — one of those that uses an online form for sending in your queries — actually wanted more information about the marketing plan and about my connections with libraries and the media in the area than it wanted about the book I was querying about. I don’t know about you, but that seems sort of upside down to me. Besides, I thought part of an agent’s job was to help authors figure out the best way to market a book — after it has been sold.
Fortunately for all of us, this author didn’t just throw her hands up in the air and give up. No, she dug her heels in and continued writing and I applaud her.
There were other stories, some that left you shaking your head and others that left you shaking with laughter, throughout the evening. The lesson that everyone who might ever be interested in writing came away with was simple: if you want to go the traditional route, do so. But ask questions and make sure you read the fine print and are prepared to spend your own money and a lot of time to do your own promotion. The flip side was that it was fine to strike out on your own. You have more freedom about things like cover design and publication dates even though you do bear the responsibility for making sure your book is a “professional” as possible.
The telling moment, at least for the non-writers in the audience, came when one of the authors on the panel mentioned that a good friend of hers — one who happens to be a well known name in mysteries but who I won’t name because I don’t have permission — said that if she had it to do over again, she’d self-publish instead of going through a legacy publisher. The reason — she could keep control of her work.
This is something every author should remember if they are ever offered a contract from a publisher. Too many include clauses that require you to publish only with them — whether it is via a right of first refusal or a tie up of your name — or clauses that give the publisher copyright to your work for the life of the copyright. This one is, in some ways even more onerous than the other. If you want more on that, just check out some of Sarah’s posts at According to Hoyt this past week.
Anyway, it was a pleasure to be in the company of five authors who so clearly loved what they were doing and who had the courage to swim against the current in the publishing stream. If you’d like to find out more about these authors, please check out their Amazon links:
Ann Summerville – Gwinnel Gardens and other books.
Bonnie Pemberton – The Cat Master
Sharon K. Owen – Thicker Than Water
Arly Pineo – Cheat the Wind
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Now for the promotional spiel. Nocturnal Origins (Book 1 of the Nocturnal Lives Series) can be purchased through Amazon. Nocturnal Serenade (Book 2) and Nocturnal Haunts (a novella set in the Nocturnal Lives world) can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Naked Reader Press webstore. And, because I was rightly chastised by someone for not pointing this out, authors get a larger slice of the pie if you buy your copies from the NRP store. Finally, as always, there is no DRM added to any of the Naked Reader Press titles.
If I were starting out now, I’d go fully indie from book one. As is, I am in a way “starting over” now and trying to shift as much of my writing to indie as I can. Look, I will not only never get rich in traditional: I’ll never make a real salary. With indie I might never get rich (then again I MIGHT) but I can make a salary, if I work hard enough. And I have kids to raise.
Gee, Sarah, you mean that you aren’t pulling in mega bucks for the books that have been on the shelves for years after they were published? (ending snark now).
Legacy publishers just refuse to get it. They think they can keep the authors at their desks working for pennies on the dollar even as they tell us to bend over and cough.
Not only am I not pulling in mega bucks, I’m being told they’re not selling at all and this is my fault. I think this is known as “pissing down my neck and telling me it’s raining.”
Which is just one reason I’m considering selling tickets to those interested in watching the metaphorical implosion of legacy publishing from, hopefully, a safe distance.
Nice to hear good news. [Smile]
It really was good to hear, Paul. Just as good was to see these wonderful women open up and be honest about the profession and the reasons they chose to take the indie path. You could see the audience absorbing it all, especially during the discussion about royalties.
It’s pretty amazing, the changes the big publishers are slipping in, without thinking we writers ought to get paid for them. A marketing plan? Don’t they have a whole department for that? A total rewrite, before the contract is even offered? Yow.
Pam, seriously, the first time I saw that it was on an agent’s website. AN AGENT. And it was part of the query submission process. Not only did you have to have a marketing plan but you had to list your contacts with the media and local bookstore management as well as local libraries. Oh, and they asked how far you’d be willing to travel, on your own dime, to promote. The implied threat, and yes I saw it as a threat, was that if you didn’t already have a marketing plan and all these contacts and weren’t willing to travel far and wide, don’t bother submitting because you aren’t worth our time. Sorry, but at the query stage, that isn’t appropriate. Besides, I thought it was part of an agent’s job to help a client decide the best way to promote a book.