I woke this morning with this Twisted Sister song ringing through my head. The video, which I hadn’t seen in years, was vivid in my mind. The image of the father, leaning over his son, demanding “What do you want to do with your life?” was right there.Except this time, instead of straight laced father and rocker kid, it was legacy publishing and an author.
What do i want to do with my life? That’s simple. I want to write. I want to write stories I want to write and that the public enjoys and will read. I want to write them when I want to write them and bring them out when I think they should be. That means, gasp, taking control of my publishing life and turning my back on legacy publishing and on agents, at least until the roller coaster the publishing industry is currently on slows down and sanity returns to the board rooms.
The time is past for publishers to look to bean counters to tell them what authors to buy and what books to publish. The problem with this method is that the process is flawed from the onset. The bean counters are using data that is flawed. They are basing their decision on sales. But guess what, those sales figures aren’t accurate. No way and no how are they accurate. Whenever you rely upon a third party to gather your sales data and that third party is not gathering data from all your sales outlets it will be flawed. But when that third party gathers data from less than half the book sellers in the country — and I’ll bet you a drink and dinner that’s the case with Bookscan — then your data is seriously flawed. Oh, I know Bookscan, like with the Nielson ratings, says they have a good mathematical formula to extrapolate fairly accurate figures. But the truth is still there. They are guessing. And who is that gets hurt? Authors. We get hurt because the publisher doesn’t worry about checking the Bookscan numbers against the print run figures, distribution figures and return figures. So, the publisher gets to keep all that extra money floating around and doesn’t have to report it to the creator of the product.
And we have let them get away with it.
But there is another problem with what the bean counters are saying. They are basing their decisions on information they gather today. They aren’t taking into account the fact it will take 12 – 24 months to get a book into print and on the shelves. Remember, these are legacy publishers. They don’t give a flying flip about e-book sales.
That time lapse means readers will very likely find other things to read, other trends to follow. Does anyone remember all the Da Vinci Code-lite books that came out and failed? There are others. How many Harry Potter-lite books came out and never made a ripple on the sales charts?
Now there is another trend with legacy publishers that we, as authors, have to be aware of. Amanda Hocking was the darling of the self-published. She made a huge splash through good story telling and hard work on the social networks. As a result, she was one of the first “indies” to be a real success. Guess what happened. Legacy publishing came rushing to her door, pounding to be let in. With major hoopla, she was signed to a mult-book contract by St. Martin’s. If I remember correctly, they’ve pushed out three books by her in the time since her signing. But has anyone really heard much about her or those books? I certainly haven’t. So where is all that promotion they promised?
But it gets worse. Worse for authors and, in the long run, for readers. Several of us have already written about how publishers are wanting us to sign over our copyright, not for a reasonable period of time, but for the life of the copyright. Folks, that means that not only will we be long gone before copyright returns to our family but so will our children. Hell, at the rate things are going in the industry, so will the publisher. Which means if there isn’t a very good reversion clause, our copyright will be in limbo and require court action to get it back. Do we want to saddle our families with that years after we are gone?
But there’s something we haven’t talked much about and that is how agents are also in the grab game. There are agents out there that, when they agree to represent your book, guess what, it is for the length of copyright as well. Okay, I don’t know about you, but unless agents are zombies or vampires — both of which are possible, given some of the folks in the business. I swear, there are times I think Kate is right about editors being minor demons, etc. — why in hell do they want this? Oh, I know. Money. They don’t want the writer to be able to take the book elsewhere after the contract ends, even if they have done nothing to help the author get a better deal or to get better promotion for the title.
Look, I have absolutely nothing against the agents who are out there fighting for their clients. There are still some of the “good guys” in the business. But they are becoming the exception and not the rule. Agents are letting publishers get by with putting in the non-compete clauses and right of first refusal — without a time frame for that refusal to be given being defined in the contract. Agents aren’t pushing legacy publishers to live up to the promotion clauses in the contracts. Agents aren’t telling their clients they are signing over their copyrights for years after the author dies. And, as I noted in my previous post, a lot of agents are asking the author before even accepting the author as a client what their business plan and marketing plan happen to be.
I have one response to that: WTF?!?
When is legacy publishing going to realize we, as authors, do have alternatives to them. There are small and micro presses that will do everything the legacy publishers do and still give us a bigger piece of the pie. Hell, these small presses actually do more than legacy publishers do in a lot of cases because so many of these small presses were started by authors fed up with how they’d been treated by their publishers.
Oh, we’ve heard all the responses from legacy publishers and their sock puppets. We know the onus that has been attached for decades to self-publishing. We’ve been told that we will never again be published by a “real” publisher if we go this route and we will never be respected as writers.
Well, guess what. Most of us never have and never will be respected as writers by legacy publishers. The writers they are dissing are the mid-listers, the work horses who kept the house afloat without any gratitude from the publishers. They always held the carrot of better advances, more promotion out in front of us but they very rarely delivered.
When that argument doesn’t work, we’re warned that Amazon is evil. It is casting its net far and wide to destroy brick and mortar bookstores and to lure unsuspecting authors in with its KDP terms. But we should beware. Amazon is evil — I said that, right? — and will turn on us when we least suspect it.
Hmm, sort of sounds like legacy publishing, doesn’t it?
There are logic problems with these dire warnings. The first is that Amazon isn’t out to destroy brick and mortar stores. That isn’t Amazon’s goal, although it may help cause the ultimate demise of the big box stores. But guess what? These same big box stores that are crying foul about Amazon are the same stores that swooped into our neighborhoods 20 years ago or so and drove out our locally owned stores. The ability of the big box stores to buy in bulk and then discount their prices below what the indies could afford to do drove the stake into the smaller stores. Hmm, ability to buy in bulk, ability to dictate terms to publishers, ability to discount prices…seems like those big box stores did exactly to their smaller competitors what they are now complaining about Amazon doing to them.
As for luring us in with great royalty terms only to turn on us later, well, that’s in our court as authors, isn’t it? If we have learned nothing from what has been happening the last five years in publishing, we should have learned to start reading the fine print in our contracts. If we haven’t, well, then it’s on our heads. But, when faced with the opportunity to take a 70% royalty (65% on BN) from Amazon for a novel I’ve written if I put it up myself or 50 – 60% royalty if I go through a small press like Naked Reader Press versus 15 – 25% from a legacy publisher (of which your agent, if you have one, gets a cut), I’ll take the larger percentages.
Can I self-publish? Absolutely. I even have some titles in the queue that I will put up on my own. However, I bring the bulk of my titles out through the small press route because I don’t have the time nor the talent to design my own covers. I know I can’t edit my own work and I don’t want to have to worry about obtaining my own ISBN. It is worth the slight decrease in royalties to me to have that taken care of. I justify it as no real out of pocket expense because it isn’t money I have to put up before ever seeing a dime of profit. But that is my choice.
Maybe the reason I’m so willing to take this leap of faith into small press and self-publishing is because I’ve been on the receiving end of some of the things I’ve warned others about. I’ve submitted to an agent who said she was still accepting submissions only to receive a response back 8 minutes after hitting the send button. Eight minutes. Not even enough time to open the attachments and read the pages. No, this was simply an agent who, for whatever reason, was willing to hold that carrot out in front of eager writers trying to break into legacy publishing by finding an agent first and then beat those same writers with the stick the carrot was tied to. Then there’s the agent who asked for several rewrites and then “forgot” they had my manuscript — for months and months and months. Then there was the editor who really liked my book but who wanted me to rewrite it in first person because paranormals were always in first person. That one really had me scratching my head because the book was an urban fantasy, not a paranormal romance. Hell, there was no romance in it and certainly no sex. But, because it had a female main character who happened to shapeshift, it was automatically pigeonholed at PR.
Give me a break.
Or maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in Texas where we take pride in the fact we are a right to work state. Hell, we take pride in being contrary and bucking authority. Add in stubborn German pride and the Irish “screw ’em” attitude toward authority figures and I guess it’s no wonder I don’t take kindly to legacy publishers trying to strip away all my rights to something I’ve worked so hard to create and who, at the same time, are probably going to try to rob me blind through some very creative accounting methods.
The truth of the matter is that none of us have to take it anymore. We do have alternatives. Hell’s bells, if we have to make sure we send an edited manuscript to our agents and editors before they “edit” it — and yes, there are a number of authors who pay freelance editors to go over their work before submitting it because they know there will be no real editing done by their editors at certain legacy publishers — and we have to do our own marketing and promotion and do it on our own dime, why are we giving legacy publishers the majority of money earned by our hard work? We are the creators. Without us, what would the legacy publishers have?
So, in the words of Twisted Sister:
The truth of the matter is, we do have a choice now. Publishing in not the closed industry it used to be. We are no longer the orphan Oliver saying, “Please, sir, I’d like some more.” Nor do we have to bend over, cough and take in it the rear just to have some air of so-called legitimacy.
When I write posts like this, I think of Howard Rourk blowing up the Courtland Building. No, I’m not saying I am destroying an industry I built. I may be full of myself at times, but never to that degree. No, the Howard Rourks I’m thinking of are the Sarahs and Daves and other authors who have fought and struggled to survive in an industry that has done its best to screw them over (and, for the record, I do NOT mean Baen here. Baen is the one main publisher I would consider signing with right now because I do agree with most of what Baen stands for, especially when it comes to e-books). Legacy publishing is the Courtland Building. The plunger and explosives are the various programs like Amazon’s KDP, the weapons in the hands of writers to bring down something they helped create but that has been corrupted by others.
I’m ready and willing to help place my hands on that metaphorical plunger and destroy something that has been so corrupted that it now works against our best interest as readers and writers. Are you?