We’re Not Gonna Take It

(This is a guest post by Amanda Green who posted over at Mad Genius Club, also.  I’m echoing by permission.  I will — probably — try to post again this afternoon, but no promises.  There’s a possibility my sewer is backing up, which means I might be VERY busy the rest of the day.  Yes, most of you know what Amanda is talking about BUT it can never be said too much.  Her listening to Twisted Sister, though, THAT I have NO explanation for.)

We’re not gonna take it anymore!

by Amanda Green

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?

49 responses to “We’re Not Gonna Take It

  1. I’m about halfway into a Young Adult novel right now. I’m having a great time writing it, and I’m sure it will sell. Light tone overall, hard science fiction (though I’m not pushing that part), with a large dose of making fun of all of the popular YA series.

    I’m also sure I wouldn’t make it past the submissions process at any of the major publishing houses. Instead, I’m going straight to electronic publication, and will pull a whole lot of strings to get it some press.

    The only hard part will be making ups some good “cover art” for the ebook…

    • you can contract it out if you have money. Something like $500, I think for “decent” from no name artist. You can advertise on Craigs if you live near an art college, or you can go to your nearest small sf con and scout the likelies from the no-names. It’s easier usually to license a no-name already-existing art piece. the alternative is hit Dreamstime.com If you check “not photo” you’ll get illustrations and some are as cheap as $5 in the size you need.

      • I’m really more tempted to use a photo for the first edition cover – I’ve been a black and white photographer for quite a while, and have a huge library of images to play with. If that doesn’t work, I’ll probably go the “pay a local artist” route. I’m enough of a graphic artist to do a nice text overlay for the title and author information.

        If sales pick up fast enough, and I have some real cash laying around, I’ll probably pay an established artist – I’d love a Tayler cover, for example (Schlock Mercenary) – that’s closer to the tone of the book than anything…

        • The problem with photo, particularly black and white, is that except for certain subgenres (thriller/horror) it reads “amateur” because so many beginners do it.

          • I can see that. The other choice is to use a photo as a base, then manipulate the heck out of it – or just use a plain graphic design.

            I’d rather have a simple, eye catching graphic than a terrible painting or drawing that “looked like” the book.

            • I like the use of the photo as a base and then manipulate it. Just remember when you do that it needs to look good both in color and grayscale. That’s another mistake a lot of folks make when they first start out on the self-publishing road.

              • I like the look of some of Carl Hiaasen’s books – the cover for “Hoot,” for example. Or the first edition of Clancy’s “Hunt for Red October.”

                Simple, punchy graphics can be fun to make, too.

              • Because my hubby and I do a lot of photographs I also start my covers with a photo. I am not the best, but I think some of my covers are good enough.

              • My thought was that, as you are professionally comfortable working with photographs, find a no-name* artist to base a cover off of your photograph. That way you’ve given the artist a clear idea of what you are seeking while allowing for adjustment to the particular demands of marketing the book.

                *Keep in mind that “no-name” artist does not mean “no-good” — after all, you are a no-name artist (wordcrafter) whose work you think is good enough to push out into the marketplace.

                • Exactly. I once gave a never-published author the chance to co-write a story with me. Her work knocked me off my feet. We’re now on… story eight? nine? of that series, get more fan mail for those than anything else I write, AND will be making those stories (with some serial number filing) into short novels. The writer — eight? — years ago was Kate Paulk. Stand up and be counted, kid.

                  • Kate Paulk

                    And no-one in the mainstream wanted to touch any of my novels, so… Naked Reader (mostly because the full time job testing software doesn’t leave me time for indy)

        • Another webcomic artist you might want to consider would be Aja, of true-magic.com, who does commissions (and did the cover to my SF book: you can see it at http://www.true-magic.com/commission/ ). She (…I am pretty sure Aja uses the female pronoun) isn’t doing commissions right now, the page says, but should get back to doing them when her computer situation is fixed.

    • Before I published “The Aristotelian,” I first went to Deviantart.com and entered a topical search string. The results came back and I found an artist whose style I liked. I emailed her, we negotiated a price and I got my cover art. Check it out here. I didn’t know any better when I created this cover.

      Soon I will publish an anthology, “Finding Time,” of time-travel stories. I went to the same artist and we agreed to do one illo per story. They all look fabulous.

      Sarah wrote an excellent post on cover design some months back. I’ve gone back and reread it a few times. She relates that cover design has changed since I would hang out in the drug store looking for books. To see what Sarah is saying, do a google image search for “Ender’s Game” and you’ll see how cover design has changed since the mid 80s.

      Seth Godin has suggested that cover design can be used to create a “purple cow.” I’m combining Sarah’s advice, what I learned studying Ender’s Game covers, and Seth Godin’s advice. If anyone is interested, I’ll post the cover art for Finding Time’s ebook edition when it’s finished.

      • Deviantart.com

        One of the things I do at Anime cons is hang out in the Artist Alley. (Do they have those at SF cons?) I have developed a relationship with a number of promising artists, a number of who are part of Deviantart.

        • The huge issue I have with deviant art is that NONE OF THEM ANSWER EMAILS. Oh, except the one who’d already sold the piece. (SIGH.)

          • I am so sorry. Must be different if you have already established a relationship with the artist.

          • I bought rights to a picture* from an artist (Jaellra) who has work up at Deviant. But I saw her work on the old Daz3d galleries first, and I emailed her Gmail address.

            I was elated to stumble over the artwork, because I’d been contemplating a character for years without filling some big blanks, and then I saw the portrait and knew what she was.

            *Actually, I bought a more complicated series of rights than the picture itself.

    • Reading these threads on cover art, I had a thought: book artist exchanges. A place to post requests for an artist, a place for artists to bid for work. Don’t know much about how to set one up, or if such a thing exists already maybe to be adapted/expanded, but there’s plenty of talent and skill within this group to explore such a thing.

  2. Good. Very good. Thank you Amanda. Thank you Sarah for putting up Amanda’s blog.

    Daddy, as I have said before, is a lawyer. When I was young he was the Chief of the Frauds Division in a major city DAs office. He taught me to read contracts. Always read contracts. Even if you trust people read the contract — trust, but verify.

    I agree, why let most of the money go to a legacy publisher if the publisher is now behaving like a cut-rate printer? No editing? No promotion? No careful accounting? And they want to own you for life? Hell, no, what do they think you are masochists?

    And I, representative of readers, want to know why I should give them my hard earned money when they cut me off from authors I would like to read? No, We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore!

    • Thanks, CACS.

      I know I sometimes sound like a broken record on this, but it is something that bears repeating, over and over again. That was brought home to me this past weekend when I was moderating an authors panel at our local library. Sure, many authors may know all this — whether they do anything about it or not — but much of the reading public doesn’t. So it’s up to us to let them know what is really going on. Believe me, if the reaction of the audience Saturday is any indication, legacy publishers are going to receive a groundswell of backlash if we do start letting our readers know exacftly how legacy publishers treat us.

      • Interesting. When I was a reader, if I had known what I know about the legacy publishers, I would have been mad as heck. At the time I was into paranormal (80s & 90s) before the swell of paranormal publishing that we see now. Plus I was so unhappy with a lot I was reading already. I read anyway, but I went to libraries instead of buying the books. I could a been a CONSUMER.

      • What is the rule of thumb: Tell them three times?

        Most readers don’t care, aren’t much interested in the problems besetting the publishing world (any more than most authors are aware of the regulatory and employee hiring and training issues afflicting the sewage pipe maintenance world.) Doesn’t mean they won’t care, does mean they (probably, mostly) won’t remember. So, develop a good, brief, 30-60 second “elevator speech” broadly outlining the issues and be ready to expand upon it if the audience hasn’t dozed off.

        One thing to keep in mind is that these problems are much much broader than just the publishing world. Find analogies that allow accountants (we are very much aware of the inadequacies of data and the abuses done to it), carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, doctors, lawyers, indian chiefs to relate your summation to their own professions.

        About Bookscan. I am sure their algorithm takes into account all the various sales outlets, just as I am sure the computer modelling underlying Anthroprogenic Global Warming takes into account all the sensors in urban parking lots and a/c exhaust ports and factors in the urban heat sink expansion of the last many years.

        Years ago the music industry was confident that their checks upon sales figures at NY, Philly, Boston, LA & SF record outlets accurately caught all significant sales. Then their reporting system expanded and they started getting data from Nashville, KC, Tulsa, Bayonne … and suddenly Country albums were making the Top-10 charts. Or when they started tracking book sales at Christian book store … Apparently those people do read!!! Who knew??

        And of course there is an old scientific principle: when all errors seem to favor one direction rather than cancelling out, check your instruments.

        • No, it’s not just publishing. I’ve said before and I’ll reiterate. The next field to get hit hard is education.

          • RE: education. We can only hope.

          • Our schools are near the bottom of the graduation rates (Nevada) in the nation. Our teacher’s salaries are much higher than the normal pay plus they are asking for more money and more schools. They are starting public charter schools were the kids go to school on the computer and see the teachers about once a week. Those children are graduating. –a very interesting concept. It was first used for our troublemakers. Now other children are asking to do it too. (oh yea, the troublemakers didn’t graduate any better with charter schools–as you probably guessed.)

            • Considering the quality of some of the graduates I see, I sometimes wonder if your schools might be better than average. So many don’t require kids to actually learn anything in order to get a diploma.

          • When people ca no longer afford the product, they won’t buy it. I can see a time in the near future when people realize that taking on a $100,000 mortgage before they get their first job isn’t all that great an idea.

        • “What is the rule of thumb: Tell them three times?”

          “Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em; tell ‘em; tell ‘em what ya just told ‘em.”

          Or so I was told more than once…. ;)

        • Was it Mark Twain who said, “There are three types of untruths. Lies, damned lies, and statistics…”

          As a scientist, I can say if your models are off just a smidge, by the time you extrapolate and interpolate to a distance, that “smidge,” while a small percentage, can be a truly mammoth number.

  3. Looking through standard contracts and talking to authors when I first began has driven me towards indie publishing. I started the legacy route but have seen little true advantage, especially as a newbie. Unless you’re Nicolas Sparks or someone else promised a ton of marketing, most of the promotion is on you anyway, so why not go in all the way yourself(or most of the way) and get a bigger cut of the pie.

    The way I see it, if I’m going to only get 15%-ish of the sales revenue, I expect a great deal from the guy taking the other 85%.

    • Exactly, RD – exactly. I was talking to my daughter a while ago, when the news about Amanda Hocking had just hit big and she was about to sign with a legacy publisher. Mind you, should any of my books out there hit big, I might very well have an agent or two, or a legacy publisher come begging at my door … and I might be tempted if the advance was huge enough… but if your books are selling big – why do you need an agent and a publisher?
      Everything they can do for you, you can contract out if you want professional services: you can hire an editor, cover artist, layout designer, a publicist, a CPA and a lawyer to negotiate contracts. The benefit is (as I told my daughter) all these specialists would work directly for you, and have your interests foremost … not the interests of the legacy publisher.

      • Everything they can do for you, you can contract out if you want professional services: you can hire an editor, cover artist, layout designer, a publicist, a CPA and a lawyer to negotiate contracts.

        And, as I understand it, if you were to go with a legacy publisher you would still probably have to hire an editor, a publicist, a CPA and a lawyer to check your contracts. If I were a writer and a legacy publisher offered a contract I would seriously ask what they had to offer that justified their share of the revenues.

        • And nowadays, unless you got lucky or were already established, chances are small that they’ll come knocking unless you’re already having success. At that point, you have to ask if the amount of control you’ll be giving up is worth the hassle and legal BS.

  4. *stands up, applauds* Here, here!

  5. I wrote my first full novel ten years ago. I had a hackneyed, over-used plot (aliens land on Earth), with a couple of twists — it’s a crash landing of a pod-liner, it happens at night in the middle of a blizzard, and it happens in the boondocks. It’s also NOT an accident. It goes from there.

    I sent it to Piers Anthony, who I’d been corresponding with for a few years, and he glanced at it. Said it was probably good enough to sell. I tried. Nobody wanted it, nobody wanted to talk to me, and nobody seemed to want anything to do with anyone that wasn’t already selling 10,000 books a year.

    I self-published for awhile, wrote five more books, then went the Barnes & Noble/Amazon route. I don’t sell many copies because I don’t advertise, and because no one has ever posted a review (positive or otherwise) of my writing. Of the six books, one is ranked in the 600,000s, two in the 700,000s, and two in the 800,000s for sales. The other one is too new to have a ranking yet. Amazon seems to rank some 1,200,000 ebooks, but that also includes quite a few short stories. I don’t know if that also includes any of the ‘free’ ebooks out there. My goal is to lop a zero off those ranking numbers. 8^)

    • You might consider putting the first one on the exclusive program and taking it free for five days. It worked well for me. (Shrug.)

      • Prepare and keep on hand for bad blog days posts on Marketing 101, 10 Ways to Market Your Indie Book, and something else similar that I don’t have time (or wit) to come up with but you’ve always got to put at least three things on the list and I need to run to the store, fill the gas tank and otherwise go without keyboard.

        Or, you know, add to the “recent posts” selection a collection of Hoyt Classic posts — topics that are evergreen and should form basic reference resource to anybody fool enough to try selling words for a living. Things like Marketing 101, So, You Think You Want To Publish and The Dictionary Is Your Friend – Learn To Play With Him*.

        *So is the thesaurus. One of Monty Python’s most famous bits — the dead parrot sketch — is nothing more than thesaurus plundering. And good acting. Thesaurus plundering, good acting and repetition of a theme. Thesaurus plundering, good acting, repetition of a theme and a wink and a nod. Bring on the man and dog now. Please.

    • I’ve been getting some occasional hits with Project Wonderful ads — I go for freebies and I don’t get a lot of hits, but I do get hits, and I think I’ve gotten a few sales. You may want to make a very nice page on your blog, with just the book you’re advertising, and links to Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon.de, Amazon.es, and Amazon.it as well as B&N, so that you can tap the Elsewhere market. (I use Smashwords links for that, ’cause they’ll sell to anyone, but if you’re not on Smashwords, a landing page for a specific book and Where You Can Buy It Outside The US is important.)

      • I’ve been doing some experimentation with Project Wonderful also, and I can say definitively (I’ve been tracking with a spreadsheet) that it has a positive effect on sales. Especially if you pick the right venue for the ad. And it also helps to swap up the venues periodically because people will get used to seeing the same ad over and over and stop looking.

    • You need another distribution channel or two. As a reader, your books sounds like something I would at least try, but my ereader uses ePub (rules out Amazon anything) and Barnes and Noble makes it too hard to buy because I don’t live in the states. A distribution channel that sells ePub files to readers outside the US would reach part of the market you aren’t currently getting to read your book.

  6. I do Amazon KDP for the first three months, then I have my book on Smashwords. At the same time I make a POD version on CreateSpace. All of these groups have some of the same and some different distribution channels. So far, so good. I will have to try ads. I did fb ads and found that they are not effectual. For something that is so pervasive, you’d think they would have better ad paradigm.