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Posts tagged ‘legacy publishing’

Advances: Buy, Sell, or Hold?

What should you do with an advance, if you get one? For purely indie writers, or those who work with small presses that don’t offer advances, we dream fond dreams akin to “if I won the lottery, I would . . .”

I have gotten one advance, that for a non-fiction work. It was to pay for necessary research, and I used it for just that, after deducting 30% for Uncle Sam (social security and Medicare taxes – 22.5%, plus extra just in case.) The hefty advance countered the very, very low royalties, which makes that a bit of a backward contract compared to fiction. However, the tax problem remains constant, as does the question of “Ooh, money, what now?”

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More than one game in town.

Good morning, all. I hope everyone here in the States had a safe and wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. It has always been an important weekend in my family. There hasn’t been a generation, going back more than 250 years, when there hasn’t been at least one member in the military. On my mother’s side of the family, we can trace military service back to the Revolutionary War. Before then, too, but that’s another story. Many of those generations have seen family members wounded or killed in the service of our country. Add in the fact my son is now serving in the Air Force and, well, Memorial Day is very special to me. Which is why I broke one of my rules regarding social media last night and let loose on someone for daring to condemn the “flag waving” Americans do to commemorate the day. As a result, I didn’t get my post for today written ahead of time. So, apologies to you for being late but I do not apologize for my comments last night. Some of you know what I’m talking about. The rest of you, well, it’s now water under the bridge.

Which isn’t what you can say about the Amazon and Hatchette fight. I’m not going to rehash it. Cedar did a wonderful job discussing it on Saturday. However, I do want to add one thing on the topic, something all those bashing Amazon have conveniently overlooked. What is happening between Amazon and Hatchett is the first round of contract renegotiations between Amazon and the publishers involved in the price fixing suit brought by the Department of Justice. When the court ruled against Apple, it “issued a final injunction that requires Apple to retain the power to discount e-books for an extended period. The injunction also prevents Apple from simultaneously negotiating new no-discounting agency deals with the major houses, instead forcing the tech giant to negotiate with each publisher separately, in exclusive windows, staggered six months apart.”

As Publisher’s Weekly states, “if you were Amazon, would you sign a deal knowing that your competitor has the exclusive power to underprice you in the e-book market? At the very least, Amazon is sure to demand the same power to discount as its rival Apple is required to retain—even though Apple will likely not use its court-ordered discounting power.”

PW also points out that the settlements agreed to by the publishers, and enforced upon Apple in the findings against it, most favored nation clauses will not be allowed for five years. In other words, no agency pricing as we know it will be allowed during that time. So why, I ask, should Amazon fight for anything but the best terms it can get, especially if Apple has the right by court ruling to discount e-books? It doesn’t matter that Apple says it won’t discount these titles. Apple is a business and is known for being ruthless when it comes to its competitors. Why should Amazon trust it not to undercut its prices?

But there is something else authors with Hatchett, or any other traditional publisher, ought to keep in mind. A breakdown of earnings report has come out. You can follow the link to where Passive Guy discusses it or go here to see the original post. There is a lot of information there I need to go over when my brain is functioning better than it is right now — math is not my friend first thing in the morning — but one thing sticks out: approximately 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars comes from e-books.

Let me repeat that. Approximately 46% of traditional publishing’s fiction dollars comes from e-books.

Now let me ask you this, traditionally published authors, how much of your royalty payments come from e-book sales?

Consider this. When it comes to royalties, traditional publishers still are not paying author’s a royalty rate that comes close to what they could earn if they self-published or went with small presses for their e-books. When pressed about this, publishers mumble about how expensive it is to make an e-book. They have to have covers and be edited and be set up for digital release and. . . .

But wait a minute. Do you really think those same publishers are actually editing, or copy editing or proofreading an e-book after it has already been edited, etc., for print? Do you really think they hire two different cover treatments? As for getting the book ready for digital release? That takes minutes now with the software available. So where is all the expense the publisher claims is there in making an e-book?

No, e-books are propping up the print side. Publishers just won’t tell you that. They mumble about how it is too hard to track e-book sales. Funny, I have about as much trouble believing that as I do the statement that in this day and age of computers and RFIDs and other tracking software and hardware that the only way they can come close to tracking hard copy sales is through the handwavium of BookScan.

What traditional publishing tends to forget — or at least refuses to admit — is that most people have no idea who publishes the books they read. The one real exception is Baen. But Baen is anything but typical when it comes to the publishing industry and thank goodness for that. So traditional publishing can’t rely on brand loyalty. These same publishers don’t understand that trotting out millionaire best sellers to extoll the evilness of Amazon, it doesn’t help their cause, especially not when those same millionaires are crying about how Amazon is hurting their bank account. If you want to get sympathy from the average reader, bring out the mid-lister. Oh, wait, the publishers can’t because 1) they make it so most mid-listers never earn out their advances and 2) they have metaphorically killed off most mid-listers. As a result, those who had a loyal following now have fans wondering what happened to the series they’d been reading and was suddenly dropped by the publisher.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep buying from Amazon. I’ll continue to sell my books on their sites as well. I’ll continue reading and researching what is going on in the industry so I can stay informed and make informed decisions about what to do regarding my writing and where to market it. And I’ll continue to shake my head and wonder at all those authors who aren’t out there asking their agents why they aren’t demanding higher e-book royalties and better contract terms. Traditional publishers, especially legacy publishers, have to accept the fact they aren’t the only game in town these days. If they don’t adapt, they will continue to bleed out money and lose authors and readers until they are mere shells of what they used to.

And that will be a loss to us all.

Or not.

Who are the real gatekeepers?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen a number of posts by authors from both sides of the traditional vs. indie publishing discussion (yes, I’m being nice here. In most cases, discussion doesn’t exactly describe the content. Argument or even screaming hissy fit usually comes closer). This comes on top of a long thread in a discussion group I belong to where a couple of folks flat said they would never read anything not from a traditional publisher because anything else never rises above the level of dreck. Pile on top of that a blog post I read this morning from an agent discussing the role of agents in the current world of publishing and, well, my head has exploded again.

It still amazes me the number of “authors” who still foam at the mouth whenever they hear the words “indie” or “self-published”. These authors sneer at anyone who hasn’t “proven” themselves the same way they did. In other words, if you haven’t sent in your submissions and included your SASEs time and time again until you find an editor ready to accept your prose, then you aren’t a “real” writer. That’s right. SASE. I actually read a post this morning where an author castigated anyone who hasn’t done this and who might not know what SASE stands for. Let’s forget about the fact that most major publishers now allow for digital submissions and, even if they don’t, they often don’t require the SASE. But not having sent out your SASEs is a sticking point to becoming a pro according to this one author.

Then you have those who believe that those who go the indie route won’t have their work edited and proofread by “real” editors and proofreaders. According to them, indie covers are all hysterically bad and indies are all wannabes who have tried to cut to the head of the line without learning the trade and taking their lumps. To support this, they point out that the professional organizations like SFWA don’t recognize indie published books are real books and, therefore, indie authors can’t be pro authors.

Why do I have this image of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand?

Look, I’ll be the first one to admit that there are those out there who publish indie because it is the easy way. They throw together a book — and I use that term loosely — and put it up on Amazon or Smashwords or any of the other outlets that allow access to indies. But these are also the ones who, after a few times of doing it will realize that they aren’t making the millions they thought they would and who will go away to either perfect their craft or to another hobby that doesn’t take the time writing does and that might have a better payout.

But there are many wonderful authors out there who have tried going the traditional route and haven’t been able to break in. It has nothing to do with how well they construct a sentence, how good their understanding of punctuation is or how strong their story structure might be. It has everything to do with the fact that the vast majority of publishers require an author to have an agent to get through the doors to even be considered. Agents choose clients based on personal reading taste as well as on what they think publishers want. The problem is, they are looking at something written today that might not see its way into print for two years or more and that, by then, won’t be the next big thing in publishing.

But even if you have an agent, that doesn’t mean you are going to be published. It means you have a chance, better than without an agent but still small, to break into a traditional publishing house. Let’s be real here: there are more authors trying to get their work published than there are slots available for them. Publishers don’t accept every good book that comes through the door. They listen to their bean counters who tell them that the latest best seller is about dinos into bondage with aliens from Zunev. So editors go out looking for similar books. That means your incredible family saga novel is going to be passed over because it doesn’t fit the current best seller matrix. It has nothing to do with your skills as a writer, only with the fact it isn’t following the latest trend.

So, tell me again why I have to go through a traditional publishing path to be considered a “pro”?

Oh, yeah, because SFWA and other organizations don’t recognize me as one. SFWA, an organization that presents itself as the moral compass of the SF/F community and has no problems attacking members who don’t conform to whatever is the current politically correct stance du jour. SFWA, the organization that for years has said it can’t do anything to acknowledge indies and others who publish through non-traditional tracks (read no large advance) without changing its bylaws and constitution. Although, it now seems like they have formed a focus group or something similar to look into it. SFWA who is behind the times when you look at how quickly RWA adapted their rules to include digital, non-advance publishing credits.

Then there’s the allegation that indie’s don’t have their books edited. Excuse me while I go giggle in the corner. Okay, I’m giggling a bit hysterically but many of you understand why. You’ve seen the lack of quality edits that have come back to you, the author, from one of the Big 6 — now Big 5 — publishers. You’ve seen how your editors and copy editors have changed the entire meaning of a sentence or a paragraph, fatally flawing that paragraph or even entire scene, by using a modern term in your historical romance. You’ve had copy editors or editors tell you that your characters couldn’t be in X-church located at Y-location because that’s not where it is. Well, that might not be where it is today according to Google Maps but 100 years ago, it was exactly where you have it. How do you know? Because you didn’t rely on Google Maps or its alternative but you went to maps from the time or descriptions of the area written back then.

Still not convinced that editing can be as bad, or worse, in a traditionally published book than it is an indie book? There are authors who are just now starting to talk publicly about some of the politically correct changes they’ve been forced to make to their books. Characters’ nationalities and race have been changed. Their sexual orientation have been changed. Changes that have nothing to do with making the story better and everything to do with pushing the current politically correct stance of the publishing house.

Then there are the authors, some of them best sellers, who hire editors to go over their work both before and after their publishing house’s editor sees it. Why? Because the quality of editing isn’t, on a whole, of the same level it once was. When publishers started cost cutting years ago, the two areas hit hardest were publicity and editing. So tell me again how traditionally published authors have better editing than indies?

(As with most everything I have to say about legacy publishing, there are exceptions. When it comes to editing and how they treat their authors, Baen Books is the exception. Their editors actually read a book and edit it before it is published and they do treat their authors as partners and valued members of the team, not as an asset or chattel like some publishers do.)

So, how do indie authors get past this stigma others in the industry, especially their fellow writers, seem to have about them? First, indies have to quit worrying about what the so-called pros think. Many of those who were the loudest to condemn indies back when Amazon first opened the KDP program are now indie publishing. Those who still condemn indies are either parroting what their agents and editors tell them or they scared to give up that upfront advance and strike out on their own. They are like the folks in the discussion thread last week who see only the bad in indie and don’t recognize that there are a number of excellent authors out there, more and more of whom are starting to make a living from indie publishing.

But, as an indie, you do have to know the tools of the trade. You have to be able to write a sentence with proper grammar and punctuation — just as you have to know when to break the grammar rules. You have to know story structure. You have to make the commitment to have your work look as professional, or more so, than what is coming out of the traditional houses. That means getting it edited and proofread. It means having a professional looking cover. In other words, you have to be as professional as the naysayers think they are.

Does that mean you will become the next Stephen King or Amanda Hocking? No. But it means you have a chance to find readers who will enjoy your books and recommend you to their friends and family. And they, in turn, will recommend you to another group of readers. That is how you start building sales. As that is happening, you should be writing. Write the next book or short story. Set your own publishing schedule and keep to it. Make sure that when a reader finishes something and likes it, there’s something else of yours for them to buy. If there isn’t, at least have an announcement of when your next book will be out.

As an indie author, you are in the business of writing. That means you have to be your own bean counter and PR guru and editor. It means you have to find and use resources for not only research but for editing, proofing and cover creation. You have to keep up with what is being sold by the legacy publishers and how they are packaging it. Why? Because if your cover has the same basic look as traditionally published books in your genre then the reader won’t automatically go “indie!” and move on. It is a game of appearances.

Most of all, quit listening to those traditionally published authors who say the only way to break into the industry is to do it the way they did. The industry has changed since most of them sold their first book or short story. The rules they had to follow no longer apply. So choose the path you want to follow — heck, follow both if you want — but write and don’t worry about whether you qualify for “pro” status in the organizations or not. What matters is if you are writing books people want to read and are willing to pay for.

Don’t believe me, go to Sarah’s post yesterday at According to Hoyt to see an example of what I would have thought a joke last week but now know is a real sub-genre that is making money for the authors involved. There are folks out there begging for books, books that will never be published through traditional houses. The gatekeepers are no longer the agents or the editors. They are exactly who they ought to be — the readers.

Some Saturday Morning Thoughts

Last Tuesday, I posted “Publish or Perish or be Condemned“. For those of you who haven’t read it, it was basically a post giving my take on someone else’s condemnation of those of us who self-publish or publish through small and micro presses because we are, according to this person, killing literature. I wasn’t the only one to have problems being told we were not as good as those authors who were published by “real” publishers because we haven’t paid our dues and didn’t benefit from “real” editors, etc.

I’ll admit to being a bit surprised when the author of the original article came over to spout vitriol and spleen because we dared not agree with him. Then, as one of our commenters pointed out, his response here was pretty much verbatim what he was saying everywhere else someone pointed out how foolish his post happened to be. There was a suggestion that he might have posted such an insulting article — on a site that supposedly champions self-published authors — in order to drive traffic to the site. So I decided to wander over there today to see what sort of posts had gone up since Tuesday.

You have to go back at least three pages of posts to find the one I initially linked to back on Tuesday. If those three pages are any indication, it is clear the site doesn’t get a lot of comments per post. I doubt there were more than fifteen comments total left on at least that many posts until you get back to the post I linked to and a counter-point post by another of those who are regular contributors to the site.

Add to that the fact that the same person who penned the post I fisked followed up with another article about why the “vast majority of self-published authors will never be taken seriously”, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the premise he’d been as insulting — and I’m being nice here — as he was was simply to drive traffic to the site. And it worked, at least for a bit. And, since I have no desire to reward him for his bad behavior any further, I’m not going to link to his article, or even to the page. You can go back to my original post Tuesday if you want to follow the links.

However, I would like to point out a couple of things. First, to say most self-published authors will never be taken seriously is true. But there is a corollary to that as well: most traditionally published authors also will never be taken seriously. The truth of the matter is, no matter which method you use to get your books or stories out to the public, unless you are a best seller, most readers will never hear of you. This was true before e-books became a major player in the publishing field and before small presses and self-published authors took to the field.

Don’t believe me? Look at what Polly Courtney has to say about the difference between self-publishing and going with a traditional publisher. After successfully self-publishing two novels, she was signed by a legacy publisher and quickly learned that the so-called benefits weren’t really there. She’s gone back to self-publishing. Yes, she knows the pitfalls, but she prefers to face them with her eyes wide open and to have the control she didn’t have with the legacy publisher.

Now, ask yourself this: how many of the successful indie authors who have signed contracts with legacy publishers, especially one of the Big 6, have you heard much from since the signing?

But that’s enough of the serious. If you want to read the most scathing, funny review of a book ever, go here. It is a primer on what not to do if you are writing a romance, or any genre fiction. Now I’m off to write — after finding more coffee. You guys have a great weekend and check back tomorrow to see what the Mad Geniuses are up to.

 

We’re not gonna take it anymore!

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:

Oh We’re Not Gonna Take It
no, We Ain’t Gonna Take It
oh We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore we’ve Got The Right To Choose And
there Ain’t No Way We’ll Lose It

(source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/werenotgonnatakeitlyrics.html)

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?

Who am I to decide?

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.

 

Good Writer, Here’s a Cracker

by Amanda S. Green

All right, guys, I’ve just about lost patience with the whiners, the clueless and the traditionalists who simply can’t be bothered to explore the new opportunities offered by changes in the publishing industry. There are times when I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall or theirs and, frankly, I’m tending toward theirs. It might be the only way to get them to at least consider they might be wrong about what’s happening in the industry. It would, at the very least, cause them to complain about something else, at least for a bit.

A little background. Over the weekend, Sarah wrote a wonderful blog about the attitude of some of those in the industry about the Department of Justice’s suit against Apple and the five publishers. That attitude is basically that books are fungible and we, the writers, are mere tinker toys to be manipulated the way they, the publishers, want. Then yesterday, Sarah posted her “response” to a non-fiction writer’s blog about what will happen if the publishing industry fails. I’m not going to rehash what Sarah said mainly because she said it much better than I ever could.

But what has my blood boiling. especially with regard to the first post, can be found in the comments section. It seems that whenever anyone posts something negative about the publishing industry, especially if it has to do with the agency pricing model, the trolls come out. We’ve seen it happen here. It’s happened a number of times on Sarah’s blog and several times on my blog as well. I’ve come to expect it. What I can’t wrap my mind around is when authors who should know better come to stir the waters but never offer anything to support their position or to really add to the conversation.

I could name the author whose responses to that first post left me wondering if we lived on the same planet, much less worked within the same publishing industry, but I won’t. You can go look it up if you want. Frankly, I have no desire to do anything more than necessary to direct traffic to this person’s website or blog. However, I’ll quote enough of their comments that you can find out who I’m talking about by simply going to the blog and searching.

In one comment, this author asked why publishers should be “legally obligated” to keep Amazon’s promise to offer best sellers for $9.99. This is a clear indicator that the author is in the camp that believes agency pricing is a good thing. That publishers, who are in financial distress, made a good decision to adopt a pricing model that brings in less money per title. This also means authors are getting less money per sale.

But there is more to the comment. It shows that the author is clearly ignoring, purposely or not, the fact that the DoJ’s suit isn’t against agency pricing. In fact, the DoJ notes in the filing that there is nothing inherently wrong with agency pricing. What is wrong is the collusion that is alleged to have taken place immediately prior to the big five publishers and Apple entering into the agency model agreement, an agreement that then had to be made with other retailers or those same publishers would be in violation of their contract with Apple.

But let’s go on.

This author later asked if it’s been proven the collusion took place. It is obvious that she is either a fan of The Paper Chase and thinks the only way to get your point across is to employ the Socratic method. For a moment, I was back in my Torts class in and my professor was asking questions so we’d think. The only problem is, her questions show that she hasn’t really read, or thought about, the law suit. First of all, the collusion is alleged and it will be up to the DoJ to prove it should the case ever see the inside of a courtroom. Second, her follow up questions about who decided what e-books could be lent is easily answered: the publishers. At least for those e-books not part of the KDP or PubIt programs. Those same publishers she is trying to defend. Then she wants to know who decided that e-books could be returned. That is probably the retail outlet. But who cares. E-books are still a commodity that can be bought — and should be able to be sold, but that’s another post all its own — and returned if there is a problem with the formatting, etc. I know she is trying to show that there are a lot of things in life that could “smack” of collusion but aren’t really. However, she doesn’t serve herself well with that argument, nor does she offer anything other than the picture of a kid stamping her foot and saying “I’m right, you’re wrong and that’s that!”

I think the best example of a disconnect comes when she asks what would happen if Best Buy decided to sell iPads for $20 without Apple’s okay and then the DoJ sued Apple for not giving Best Buy the iPads for that price.

WTF?!?

Talk about apples and oranges. To begin, if Best Buy decided to do that, it would be in violation of its contract with Apple. Apple would react quickly and swiftly, in my opinion. Best Buy would have to stop selling the iPads at that price. It would probably have to then recompense Apple for any lost profits. In fact, it would be remarkable if Apple didn’t pull Best Buy’s status as a certified reseller.

Now, tell me this, why in the world would the DoJ get involved? This argument is nothing more than the typical smoke and mirrors I’ve seen all too often whenever this topic comes up. Substitute Amazon for Best Buy and one of the Big Six publishers for Apple and you have the fall back argument these folks always come up with. Amazon bad. They were selling too low. Publishers didn’t like it. If there was collusion, it wasn’t that bad. After all, Amazon bad.

Rolls eyes.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m more than happy to discuss the matter with those who don’t agree with me. But the key word here is discuss. But please, don’t think those of us who don’t jump onboard the Amazon is Evil wagon train lack the ability to google. We do google and it is all too easy to discover that there are a handful of authors who seem to be trolling the blogs saying the same thing over and over again, as if by doing so they can either score points with their editors or convince the rest of us that we really should bend over and take it in the rear from legacy publishers, giving up the larger royalties we can get by self-publishing or going with small presses that realize there would be no book, hard copy or digital, without the author.

Then there were some of the responses to Sarah’s post yesterday. Mind you, I understand the author’s fear about what will happen to non-fiction books if legacy publishing goes belly up. This is a scary time for anyone in the business. But it is up to each of us to decide how we are going to face the changes that have happened and that will happen. Are we going to sit there, wringing our hands and doing nothing? Are we going to think about what we should do and yet never do it? Or are we going to figure out how we can make these changes work best for us?

Frankly, as a non-fiction author, I’d embrace the changes. Digital books offer so many possibilities never offered by print books. You can have interactive sections within the e-book that lets the reader see what would happen if a certain army unit moved here instead of there. You can link to external sources. You can embed video or audio. Just think of all the possibilities.

But what this author did and didn’t realize — and I’m not sure she has realized it yet — is insult fiction authors. In her mind, those of us who self-publish simply sit at our computers and write. We don’t research. We just crank out books every few months and rake in our royalties. We aren’t, in other words, real writers. Sorry, but I know how much research I do. I know how much authors like Sarah do when writing a period piece. Working with Kate as one of her editors for Impaler and Born in Blood, I know how much research she does for her alternate history.

Writers, at least those who care to be accurate, research. It doesn’t matter if they are writing fiction or non-fiction. If a writer wants to be successful, he’d better research. Believe me, if you don’t, you will be called on each and every mistake you make. But to simply paint with broad strokes that fiction writers don’t research drives me batty.

So here it is, guys. There has been no finding of collusion yet. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. And, if it did exist — and I believe it did — you can’t overlook it just because you think the bigger evil is the entity that the collusion was aimed against. The fact that Amazon — or any other reseller — MIGHT do something in the future isn’t reason enough to penalize them now. Dig your heads out of your publishers’ backsides and actually study not only the DoJ’s filings, but what has been going on in the industry for years. Maybe then you’d realize why others are upset about the creative bookkeeping that is called royalty statements. Maybe then you’d understand that books aren’t fungible and authors aren’t interchangeable. Maybe then you’d realize that harm has been done by raising prices of e-books. If fewer books are being sold, that means less money in your pocket.

BTW, the number of states joining the suit against Apple, et al, has just been increased to 31.

I guess the easiest way to say it is this: Think and quit parroting the party line given you by your legacy publisher.