I’m at that phase of a couple of projects where I need to make certain decisions. The most important one is whether to take one of the projects (which is a brand new story/series) the traditional or indie route. There are other questions as well, especially if the answer to the first question is indie. So let’s look at the questions we should be asking and why we all too often let ourselves get put into the position where the tables are turned and we’re the ones being questioned.
Let’s start with the first question: indie or traditional? Or, to put it a bit more bluntly, what are the advantages of going traditional over going indie?
Once upon a time, I had dreams of going traditional. I think most writers, especially those who grew up before the age of indie publishing, did. We had wonderful dreams of seeing our books on the shelves at our local bookstores. We could see ourselves doing book signings in those stores and at our local libraries. But somewhere along the way, the world changed. Even before Amazon came onto the scene, big box bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books-a-Million started running the mom and pop stores out of business. Amazon helped put the final nail in those coffins. (Note: the damage was already done before Amazon came around. Most of those locally owned stores operated on shoestring budgets and couldn’t keep up with the larger selections and lower prices from the chain stores.)
That meant the dreamed of shelf space grew smaller, making it harder for new authors to break through. Why? Less shelf space meant less books being bought by bookstores. That lower number meant these same stores wanted known earners–or more money from the publishers or both–than unknowns who wouldn’t bring people into the store.
Then something else happened. Fictionwise–followed by Smashwords and then Amazon and other online merchants–opened up for authors, giving us another route besides the traditional route. Still, traditional was the tried and true way, the way to “prove” yourself to be a “real” writer.
Remember the gatekeepers.
And this is where you have to start asking yourself if the gatekeepers are actually that? And, if they are, what are they protecting the gates from.
This is a roundabout way of coming back to a post I saw yesterday over at The Passive Voice. It quoted from a Publishers Weekly article about “The End of Editing”. The article is worth reading if for no other reason than to see one author’s experience with “editing” by a traditional publisher.
My own agent, Madison Smartt Bell, agrees that editing has shifted: “Editors now can expect manuscripts submitted to them to be in an extremely finished state, perfected whether by writers teaching in the academy, or by agents drawing on their past experience as editors, or a combination of those two.”
Morris adds that editors are now expected to promote their books, and I know this was true of my university press editor, who not only acquired the book but was its marketing department, as well.
In other words, editors don’t “edit” any more. Or at least not like they used to. (This isn’t true of all publishers, but it is what I’m hearing more and more regarding the major publishers.)
What this means is they are expecting you to either pay big bucks to attend one of the “approved” writing courses/programs and have your book edited there or for you to hire a content editor–not to mention line editor–before submitting the book. Either option means you are going to take a huge hit in your wallet before you even start shopping your book around.
As for the editor being the marketing department, that may be the case for small presses and university presses but it isn’t for larger publishers. Oh, they might market it to bookstores but that’s it. For the vast majority of authors, any promotion your books gets will be promotion you do. Again, on your dime and on your time, time when you should be writing.
As for wanting agents to be editor before sending the book around, that’s another nope and for several reasons. Your agent should be out there trying to sell your book. Every hour spent going back and forth with you on editing is time spent not selling the book–or selling another client’s book. If that agent accepted a book that needed major content edits, there’s something wrong and, suspicious person that I am, I have to wonder if they aren’t trying to sell book doctor services to their client.
Then there’s the issue of if they have you edit stylistically to meet the tastes of one editor, how many other editors have they taken out of the equation in the process?
And how many more weeks or months or even years have they added to the submission process?
Then we get to the marketing issue. I’ve written on this before with regard to agents. When submitting to an agent or a publisher and they start asking you what you are going to do to help them make money, they have revealed exactly what they are interested in: their own bottom line. That’s all right. They aren’t in this business as a charity. But when you are asked about your contacts with the media, etc., and when you are asked what you are going to do to promote your book BEFORE you even submit it, that’s a red flag you should pay attention to.
What that sort of question says to me is if you don’t have the right connections and aren’t committing to spending time you could be writing doing what should be the publisher’s job–or the agent’s–they they aren’t going to agree to consider your manuscript.
There comes a point when you, as a writer, have to look at things and remember the adage that money flows to the writer and not from her. Money isn’t always currency. It is also time because when you are not sitting at the desk working, you aren’t making money. Yes, you need to do promotion on your own. But if you are with a traditional publisher, if you have a agent, promotion should not fall in a major way on your shoulders. They have a duty to you as your representatives to promote your work. But that is something that seems to have gotten lost along the way.
Sort of like editing.
The Passive Guy closed out the post on his site with this:
So, if hiring a professional editor is something the author should undertake, what services does a trade publisher provide in exchange for taking the majority of the proceeds generated by sales of a book?
That is a question each of us should keep in mind when considering whether to go traditional or indie. Oh, and to answer the question I posted in the opening paragraph, I’m taking the book indie. Now I have to decide if I’m going wide or not. More on that next week.