He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher

First let me point out no one beats me. Not literally. For those of you who’ve read Athena (Darkship Thieves) this should not be an incredible surprise.

The title is denoting of the relationship existing in traditional publishing between the writer and the publishing house. It is also the sort of thing I heard many women say about their husbands in the village where I grew up. Portugal, like most countries whose cultures were strongly influenced by Islam, had a streak of wife-abuse running through the poorer or more culturally backward classes. Since in the village where I lived my dad was one of the very few white collar workers, this meant my mother and my grandmother were forever saving women who ran away from home when they were two steps from landing in the emergency room… Only to see them go back to their husbands because “He beats me but he’s my man.” Or “He beats me because I’m not good enough.” Or “He beats me because he loves me so much.” Or even “Whom should he beat but his own.”

Needless to say, the one thing my family told me, from – I think – before I could toddle (I could talk before I could walk. No. Don’t ask.) was “If your husband ever so much as slaps you, you leave. That day. And you don’t go back.”

Unfortunately my family never knew about publishers and the status of the mid-list author.

I wasn’t going to talk about any of this. I wasn’t. I like at least one of my publishers immensely, and I do understand how their hands are tied. On the other hand the last few days have been very trying. First, is it my impression or are all the establishment’s blue eyed boys going out of their way to tell us how we’ll starve in the gutter without traditional publishing? They remind me of my first agent, who btw, ONLY made official the sale I had already made to the publisher, and who then told me I’d die in the gutter without her, when I fired her. (Yeah. That… didn’t work as she thought, curiously enough.)

But then yesterday, in the Baen bar, someone posted that he sent letters to WRITERS complaining about their publishers’ DRM policies and pricing for ebooks because, I don’t know, the Kool-Aid man is red? Oh, wait, no, it’s more nonsensical than that. Because and – clears throat – I am quoting: writers choose their publishers. I want them to choose publishers who don’t do these things.

And that pushed me over the top. Call it hormonal, all right? I’m getting to be the same age when my mom was more likely to take off with the cast iron frying pan to talk to one of the abusive husbands than she was to simply bandage the woman’s wounds.

So, to begin with, let me tell you right now that the chances of a midlist author dictating terms to his/her publisher are about the same as those of a village working class woman finding a man who doesn’t beat her. She might get lucky. She MIGHT. But she can’t count on it. In fact, a village woman once told me “If you think you’ll find a man who doesn’t beat you–” (And let me say, yes I have.)

Heck, as some of you know I have a lot of friends who are bestsellers. The way the market is right now, the chance of a bestseller dictating terms to his publisher are close to nill as well – unless he’s one of those blockbuster bestsellers that defy all classification. In our field you can probably count those in the fingers of both hands and have some fingers left over. And unfortunately none of them are close enough friends for me to ask if they, too, are worried.

Now, let me describe to you how much power the typical author has. Let me tell you how traditional publishing works for the unconnected, the non-fashionable and the doomed.

First of all, it’s a buyer’s market. Since the mega mergers of the eighties, there are five overarching houses. There might be more imprints, but, at least when submitting through an agent, you can’t submit twice to the same house. (Well, at least not using any agent I’ve had.)

Second, for each slot available on the publishing schedule there are thousands upon thousands of submissions. Even assuming the vast majority of those are either horrible or “don’t fit” the publisher’s “needs” there have to be at least ten books that would fit the slot at any given time.

So, let’s say YOUR book takes the editor’s fancy. Or maybe they owed your agent a favor. Or maybe they liked the title better than the other ten. Who knows?

You’re a brand new author, and they pick you out of slush. Oooh. Oooh. You’re in the money now, right?

Um… maybe. But first let’s talk about the important considerations: how powerful is your agent? How much does he/she believe in you? And do you know anyone in a publishing house? If all those are negative, you have one more chance at the big money – are you a “sexy package”? Part of this is literal. Are you cute and young? Can they count on displaying you and having people tumble over themselves? Part is metaphorical – do you have a hard luck story? Do you have something interesting about you? Do you perhaps have a well-followed blog? Or are you a politically correct refugee? (When my first series tanked the publisher told me she would buy me again and “make me a bestseller” if I wrote an autobiography. I was thirty eight. I’d done nothing but get married, have kids and write three failed books. So… she wanted me to write about my childhood in Portugal and make it “sexy.” No, I didn’t. What, am I stupid? No. I respect my family and friends there too much. I want to sell my books, not my unremarkable self. Also there are other reasons which are none of their business. Or anyone else’s.)

Let’s suppose you’re either white-bread American and unconnected to the publishing industry in any way. (Or you’re not white American but are stupid or honorable enough not to let them make a big deal of your life or treat you as an oppressed minority.) Let’s also suppose you wasted your twenties trying to break in, and in your thirties you’re blousy, somewhat overweight, with two small children.

Ah, my dear, welcome to hell. Here’s your accordion.

Having looked at this, your editor “forecasts” your numbers. I have it on good authority this doesn’t involve the bones of sacrificed animals. What they do is go “White, American, unremarkable and not sexy.” And you get the standard beginner’s advance. It used to be the princely sum of five thousand dollars (what, you can’t live on that for a year? Foolish you. Appliance boxes are free, and there are some nice underpasses. You can write at the library.) It is now three thousand.

Now the book and its advance pass on to the marketing department. Who… barely glance at it. To get back the money they invested in you, they don’t really need to do anything. No, look, I know what you’ve heard. They say that printing the average book costs 100k or some fantastical sum. But that’s because they’re charging to every book the same percentage of editor/publicist/secretary/etc salaries. (Many books at this level, if bought on proposal, never get READ in full. Except presumably by the copyeditor. That’s how much time you take of those salaries.)

Next, you get assigned to someone – probably someone’s secretary – who procures a cover for you. Usually you get a beginner artist (and some are darn good) but they might also use some form of out of copyright art – like my first three books. And then… and then you go to copyedit. And thence to the marketing department again.

I’ve been privileged to listen to a book reps spiel back before I was published, at my favorite independent bookstore, while I was waiting to ask the manager a question. Back then this was done with a huge catalogue with covers, and one or two books in actual advance printing. First these came up. They were either bestsellers or those the publisher had slated as bestsellers. They got handed to the bookstore manager and the manager was told “Well, we have strong confidence in these books. You’ll want to take…” twenty of each, I think, at a minimum. Might have been fifty. It’s been a long time. Then came the books in “second slot” for that quarter. For these the rep had the covers. He’d hand them over, do a little song and dance, and say “you want to take” – five or ten of these. He’d tell you how the publisher was promoting these books this way or that, or how interesting the life story of the author was, or what have you.

AND THEN, at the end, he’d say “You also can take these.” THAT, Mr. or Ms. Whitebread, is where you are. And if your cover is exceptionally pretty or the manager recently watched a movie that sounds somewhat like your book, they might take one or two.

At that point, you’re in the midlist zone. You’re also more than likely in the sales death spiral (no, I’m not going to explain that. This would run to ten pages. Google Books and Death Spiral.) After that, any book you sell, those numbers will be brought up. Can you escape the midlist, once you’ve been cast into it? I don’t know. One hears stories, but those are usually from before the computer number system. Perhaps, as with hell, you can swim out of it but I doubt it’s on a sea of tears of true repentance. More likely you’d have to marry a movie star, or perhaps run for president.

Note that SO FAR the writer has had exactly zero choice. Oh, he can chose NOT to sell his book and remain obscure forever. Does how good his book is influence anything? Well… it could. Supposing that word of mouth got going among readers. Except that, for all but one of my publishers (yes, you know which one) until very recently, it was one print run, one time, it sells out and the book is no longer available in any format. Too bad so sad. One of my publishers until the last two books made it a point of taking the books out of print at the year mark or when the book started earning royalties.

This meant the chances of your being discovered in back inventory were… you’re right. Zero. (I know through my fanmail a lot of people are NOW discovering my Shakespeare series which came out eleven years ago. I get no money for those, because they’re out of print and either used or remaindered. I don’t even get statements for them anymore. And there weren’t enough of them printed, so even if they all sold twenty times, my name recognition would be limited.)

In fact, if your book had been completely blank, or a compilation of nursery rhymes, it would have got exactly the same distribution and sales as it got with your words in it. You didn’t choose the cover. You didn’t choose the price. You didn’t choose the push. You didn’t choose the distribution.

More importantly and more than likely, the person who chose these things chose them NOT based on the book – which they might or might not have read – but on YOU and their perceived marketability of YOU. (And let me tell you, as a reader, that’s many shades of wrong.)

Most people don’t know your book even exists, and therefore they can’t ask for it. And if they do, they might get told it can’t be ordered.

And then… and then the fun starts. When the numbers are in, you’re told your numbers are only “midlist” and barely good enough (if you’re lucky) for them to buy the next one. And the next. they all get the exact same treatment. You might grow your fans, but it will be very slow. And even if you sign with a publisher who wishes they could do more for you, at that point the publisher is hamstrung by the numbers in the computer about your previous distribution.

You might (or might not) be asked to change your name again and again and again (one of my publishers has a fetish for this.)

And all along you’ll be told the fault for your lackluster sales is … yours. Yep. You wrote the book, and if it doesn’t sell, it’s ALWAYS your fault. No matter how demonstrably it ISN’T.

And under the old model, you swallowed and took it. You did what the village women did when I was a kid. You bandaged your worse wounds, and you made up stories. “I fell down the stairs.” “I bumped into bad sales figures in the night.” “I am so clumsy.” “It’s all my fault.” “They beat me because they love me.” And you crawled back. Because the alternative was unthinkable. The alternative was to never publish again.

And if you complained – if you so much as opened your mouth and said something along the lines as perhaps the crash of the books wasn’t ENTIRELY your fault (I’m not a conspiracy theorist, for instance, but I’m100 % sure that the crash of my first book was exacerbated by coming out exactly one month after 9/11 and while I’ve done many weird things in my life I’m SURE I never committed any terrorist attacks. But those numbers were SOLELY my fault, as far as the industry was concerned.) you got told how grateful you should be to the house for continuing to publish your worthless self, how each of your no-good books cost them 100k to get to the printing stage, and how they only did it out of the goodness of their hearts. And you had to swallow it, no matter how nonsensical it was.

THIS model. THIS MODEL is what the bright eyed harbingers of the establishment, the blue eyed boys of privilege want me to get maudlin about. Both as a reader and as a writer, let me say RIGHT NOW that I’m not going to.

No, I don’t know where the buck will stop in digital publishing. No, I don’t know what will emerge or what shape it will take. I do know just being able to say “It wasn’t my fault. I’m not the world’s best writer, but there’s something mighty weird with the system.” Or “I will not be grateful for hind teat” is good enough for me.

A biography of Marlowe claims that among his last words were “Just to tell the truth once, would be worth dying for.” This, it turns out, is also true when the result is the metaphorical death of a career. Particularly when there are alternatives.

No, I will not eat what’s put before me. No, I’m not the world’s most wonderful writer – every year I look at what I wrote the year before and cringe, so I know there’s room for improvement – but I KNOW I’m not a million times worse than J. K. Rowling. Sorry, that’s not just impossible. That’s obscene. I also know that until Pratchett got a new agent and editor, he was lost in mid-list hell in the US while a bestseller in the UK. His writing did not change. His marketing did.

Will I continue selling to big houses? Only if I like them. I write for a house I like, and there’s one other house I wouldn’t mind writing for.

As for the rest of them, they can go to hell. I’m going Indie.

*Crossposted at Mad Genius Club*

Welcome Vodka Pundit Readers. Thanks to Stephen Green for the link. Poke around. We don’t have Vodka, but we have Port. (Have to. I was born in Porto, Portugal.) It’s in the decanter over there. Go easy on it. It’s stronger than it looks.

107 thoughts on “He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher

  1. I’ve talked (on-line) with authors who didn’t know their books were available as ebooks and the idiots expects the authors to know if those ebooks are DRMed?

  2. By the way, I wish this software allowed me to get “follow-up comments via email” with me commenting, but I know that you can’t control that. [Wink]

  3. They are trying to make it same-old, same-old in digital, are the big publishers. Offering extremely low royalties (25% net is not enough) and accumulating cash to spend on selling the books and staffing the New York offices.
    But there are promising developments afoot. New models, new publishers and indie authors. Maybe, just maybe, the people who produce 90% of the content between the covers might get a fair shake.

  4. Paul,
    I take it you haven’t been in the bar. Not only does he expect me to demand no DRM, he THINKS that my saying I will not let them publish my book will make them drop DRM. Some levels of illusion have no boundaries. It’s not worth logging into the Fuhbar to argue with him.

    Lynne, you are absolutely correct, but I’ll point out we’ll only get it if we fight for it. However (again, those of you who read Darkship will understand what this means) — They’ve done the wrong thing, sending out their bully boys to prattle us into submission. NOW they’ve pissed me off.

  5. Sarah, I was there and I wasn’t clear here. My thought was that if publishers didn’t tell authors about e-versions of the author’s book, why would publishers listen to authors about DRM?

  6. Times are changing in the publishing industry at an ever increasing pace.
    Authors have to take a really close look at their contracts if they want to stay afloat. Not so much in respect to “How much money do I make?” but rather “Which rights do I sell? Do I get my rights back, ever?” and *most* important “Is there a non compete clause and what does it actually say?” If there is, is it the very specific version, say “I may not sell another book in this particular series until 6 month after publication of the book this contract is about or three years after signing of the contract, whatever comes first.” OR is it one of the non competes that are currently making the rounds in the various blogs under which you can’t do anything at all, ever, probably not even breathing in recognizable patterns, unless you went to court and got a judge to rewrite the contract.

    Of course it very easy to talk about this from the sidelines when paying the bills does not depend on the advance for a book. Neither is it simple, not at all, to make the transition from the classic publishing to self publishing say via Amazon and CreateSpace (for pod).

    On the other hand…. If an author signs an such oppressive contract today? Maybe the other authors will learn that they can not allow to get breath restricted after a few dozen have suffocated.

  7. Chasm,
    You are exactly right. These are scary times. I signed a (I HOPE modified enough to defang it) contract like that once because it was my ONLY chance at income that year. It’s not going to happen now.

    1. But even then you a) recognized the problem and b) tried to mitigate it as much as possible. Which apparently puts you squarely in the top ten percentile of the currently “legacy” published writers.
      Which is sad, basic common sense should be much more common than that.

  8. Believe it or not, Sarah, your words gave me hope. In 2010 I published a print/digital book with a small press. Despite the distribution it was promised, it went into NO BOOKSTORES and was basically invisible.

    It sold anyway. Very nicely. For me and this book, the paradigm didn’t work like the Blue Eyed Boys claim it’s supposed to. Thank heaven for small favors. Like most of the rest of us, I’m watching the transition to direct-to-consumer publishing with great interest, and though I’m not ready to kick the man who beats me out of the house quite yet, I’ve been seen hefting the cast iron frying pan several times a day. Just in case.

  9. I really enjoyed Darkship Thieves, and I hope you continue to publish books with baen so I can get them via webscriptions!
    Please keep writing, I’ll keep buying!

    1. I intend to. Have delivered Darkship Renegades. If asked nicely, will post first couple of chapters here this weekend. Am now working on #3 “A Few Good Men.” (Yes, I know, but titles are fortunately reusable.

  10. I write very niche books and have done well with a tiny press, one step up from POD. It has not been enough to live on, but far more than others of my genre with agents and larger publishers make.

    The publishing business model was forged in the Dark Ages and they are trying to fight this newest incursion on the castle with hot tar and arrows. Independent writers may have a shot this round.

    This is a great post, Sarah.

  11. Publishers wasted 20 years of my life. I finally published myself and I’m just about to put out my 6th book!

    That entire industry is vile, and comparing publishers to abusing husbands, though clever, does not go nearly far enough. They are more like abductor-rapists who keep sex slaves locked up in their basement torture chambers.

    When I was on the verge of publishing myself the first time I ran into a woman who was starting up her own small company, and she was interested in my work. I said, “I don’t get why in order to help me sell my book you have to OWN it.” She flew into a rage.

    Publishers are nothing but controllers. They are mentally ill.

  12. Excellent post, Sarah. This explains all the problems with traditional publishing, why writers still want to use it (or would like to use it if it worked correctly), and should tell anyone with a brain and some common sense how little control any writer has over his/her own destiny at a traditional publishing house.

    I think some of the smaller places, like MuseItUp Publishing and Naked Reader Press, have the right idea. These are places that like good writing, sign good people (MuseItUp has signed more and put out more, but the principle is the same IMO for both publishers) and put out a high quality product. I know that I’ve read/reviewed five or six NRP novels and novellas and all of them have been good with a few being excellent, and I’ve said so.

    I think there is a role for publishers, providing they play fair — Baen generally does as I understand it, and I’ve heard only good things about TW — and I think there’s a role for self-publishing or niche publishing, too. I just haven’t figured out where or how I should go about trying to market things; I _do_ have a hard-luck story, but do I really want to use _that_ to get people to read my books? (My late husband would be disgusted, but on the other hand he’d probably say, “Use anything you can” at this point. He was a pragmatist.)

    1. Well, Barb, part of the reason I chose not to use my story is that I didn’t want to get pegged writing “ethnic” books or even worse “struggle” books. If my writing were all about Portugal and Portuguese being downtrodden (! I don’t know. never stood still long enough for anyone to tread on me) I probably would have used the story. Or even if I had aspirations to Magic Realism which is associated with Latin countries. Also, if my family didn’t have to change their names and move or worse (it’s far more their story than mine.) BUT write my bio when what I wanted to write was sf/f? Be real. The editor had nothing, and that’s why she was reaching.

      1. Three words, Sarah: I, Rigoberta Menchú

        Three more words: Nobel Prize Money

        It is quite simple for somebody as smart as you to feed the Twits … um, the Elites, yah, that’s who I meant … the kind of pablum about poor downtrodden third worlders exploited & neglected by The West — and you know they’ll take that bait hook, line, sinker, rod & reel every time.

        Integrity? Gratitude to those who raised you? That stuff is for the suckers.

        Oh, as for the publishers? They’ve lost control of the gate and will never succeed in reclaiming it. They can go gracefully (not bloody likely) or they can go kicking, scratching and whining about how much they did for ingrate authors and ungrateful public. Sure, it will be hard sorting wheat from chaff, but I learned that trick at my public library even before I abandoned sucking my thumb. King Publisher is dead; Après moi, le deluge,

  13. Currently, I self publish via the Internet, self promote and deliver via download. Minimal overhead cost and direct profits. I do this because, even as a previously published author, the terms and conditions and minimal cash the publishers offered me after “accepting” my book for publication were simply ridiculous. There is a lot more to say, but they were the losers. On the latest ebook, I made more after 300 copies sold online, than I would have made with a 10k initial run. And as it keeps selling, I keep getting paid. And I Own it.

    1. “And I Own it.” That’s a danged important sentence. I’m getting really close to thinking that it should be illegal to sell intellectual property in the same way that it’s illegal to sell children: it sets up a dangerous precedent. It has resulted in a culture where it’s damned well EXPECTED that you’ll sign over your rights.

      We don’t need people to own our work; we only need people to help us alert the public that our work exists. They don’t need to own it to do that. What we need is for agents to switch from the practice of peddling our work to publishers to the practice of peddling our work to the public. And then the publishers will be cut out completely. They are done. They can go the hell away.

      1. I run a small site that sells short illustrated stories. We just buy the stories off of amateur writers and then do the rest.
        We *have* to own the story. Otherwise the writer can simply come and demand we take the story down. At that point we lose all the time and money we put into it. We get about 100 sales per title.
        Actually, we don’t care about “Owning” the story. We just don’t want to get an email demanding that we take down our product because the writer changed his/her mind.

        1. You don’t need to “own” it, you need to lease the copyright for a period of time. One of the worst contracts I ever signed and still resent was an attempt to help a small net publisher. They wanted the story forever and all over the world. I don’t remember for how long I let them have it. It wasn’t forever, but might have been ten years, which is way too long.
          I suggest one way your contract could do this would be make it non-exclusive and have a term of expiration. (Or not, but non exclusive.) you should also have something in your contracts about the story with illustrations being different from the story without — i.e. a different property — so that if you have non exclusive rights, the writer can re-publish the story, but not your illustrations. Yeah, I’m explaining this badly, but talk to a lawyer about your contracts, if you haven’t. And your site sounds interesting. Would you post a link?

      2. At this stage in my career* I would _never_ sell “all rights” to anything _unless_ I were writing in someone else’s world (for example the “Heroes in Hell” world, but also if I were writing a Media Tie-in or the like). Period. And I certainly would not sign a “work made for hire” contract, again, unless I were writing in someone else’s playground. If someone wants first rights, I’ll sell those (so long as there’s an expiration date so they can’t sit on it and prevent me from ever selling it elsewhere). If someone wants permanent non-exclusive rights in a particular venue, that, too, can be negotiated.

        But “all rights” forever? That’s a deal breaker. Nobody’s going to offer me enough money to get me to consider that. Really. If anyone were to offer enough money to make me even think about it, they would be offering me enough money to make me think I have a “hot property” and could probably negotiate a better deal elsewhere anyway.

        Most professional writers of my acquaintance would do the same.

        *There was a time when I would have signed just about anything you put in front of me just to get my name in print. I signed a bad rider on my first sale to Analog (and later found that it was purely optional, I could have simply left it out–oh, well, live and learn or you don’t live long). (Stan is great to work with but the legal departments of some of the people who have owned Analog over the years? Not so much.)

  14. Watch out on the Net too.

    I and a partner did up a game setting that was quite clever. Got tiny money for it, but …oh well. Then we got an offer for tiny money plus tiny money for buying it. The Epublisher was mad with me for daring to say ‘no’.

    At that price, I’d keep my stuff. I guess I was supposed to be desperate enough to practically give my stuff away. Well, I’m not, and I’ve got some pride.

    Couple days later we got a royalty check for about 2/3 of what the e-publisher was offering to buy it for. Hah!


    Thanks for writing this.

      1. Yes! Never be desperate. And, never settle…Never! Not with your writing, not with other careers you might undertake, and not in your personal life. Thank you posting about this! This is a message that we all need to hear much more often than we do, whether we write or not, no matter our circumstances.

  15. Someone explain to me, with the advent of the internet and indie e-publishing….
    why in the nineteen purple plaid layers of Shaitan’s hell would anyone go to ANY publisher? What, precisely, can a publisher do for an author now that the author can’t do for themselves, and with better results?

    1. Just because you can write, doesn’t mean you’re any good at formatting your work for an e-reader. And there’s a reason Editors exist. Maybe you have the money and the people skills to find a good editor.

      1. Formatting for ebooks is a real no-brainer. You can do it in Word or Openoffice, and it’s very very easy to learn. I’ve got a free template for it here, that I built after figuring out the tricks for getting around the Smashwords vetting process, in case anyone here wants it.. http://jdsawyer.net/2011/03/30/smashwords-and-openoffice/

        And congrats, Sarah! I just discovered you this year in the foreward to the BAEN espanded edition of Puppet Masters. Glad to see you joining the revolution!

    2. For several reasons, but mainly because there is still the illusion of legitimacy that clings to any book published through a legacy publisher. Also, believe it or not, but most authors do like to see their books in print. Publish on demand means your books will cost more than if they come from an established print publisher.

      As noted above, many times, it is also a financial decision. Publishers, at least traditional ones, pay advances. Those advances are relied upon by many writers to help pay rent, buy food, etc.

  16. Fred Read takes the same viewpoint on publishing too:

    FWIW Baen’s technique of putting the first few chapters on-line is the equivalent of a drug dealer offering a free taste. I’ll just click over and check out Darkship Theives now. 🙂

    1. Oh? you think I don’t know that? 🙂
      BTW I have samples of all my novels on my website, too. (Girl might be tired, overworked and grumpy, but she ain’t TOTALLY stupid.)

  17. For much of history the basic reason behind “he beats me but…” is that alternatives were generally worse. The alternative for a woman in those circumstances, if she left the man (even assuming that he couldn’t hunt her down and inflict punishment up to and including death for the temerity of leaving) were generally worse than even the abusive relationship. (Note: I am not “excusing” it. The extent that the cultures create(d) this situation is a lower bound to the extent that the cultures are/were better left in the dustbin of history.)

    In publishing it has been much the same way. If you wanted your stories out where people could read them you had to take what you were offered or you were out of luck.

    This appears to be changing. I still see some issues. For many people indie/self publishing is a pretty big gamble. After all, if someone writes a book and sells it to a publisher there’s the advance. Three thousand, Sarah said? That’s $3000 in your hand. OTOH, if one goes the self-publishing route there’s professional editing. Maybe you can skip that (after all, it would seem that the “traditional”* publishers are skipping that) but if you don’t that’s an expense that you have to pay out of pocket. Cover art. Same. Getting the book printed and bound. Same. Converted to various e-formats. Same. Getting the book in stores (even if you’re one of the “here’s some you might want” folk and the stores pick only a couple of those at random, you’ll get into some stores just by blind chance). Same. By the time you’re done you could be out several hundred to several thousand dollars. Now how long is it going to take sales to recoup that cost plus make you the equivalent of that $3000 advance? (To complicate things, consider that in terms of “present value”–a dollar to be earned ten years from now is worth less _now_ than a dollar in your hand today. The longer it takes to receive the money, the more that has to be received to have the same value as some amount today.)

    While Traditional publishers are becoming dinosaurs I can certainly see why folk, particularly beginners, would want to take the “bird in the hand” (if they do manage to get pulled out of the slushpile and chosen for traditional publication) versus the costs and uncertainty of going it alone.

  18. Agree David.

    Of course, there’s another factor supporting the use of publishers.

    As a reader, how do I know if a book is worth my “beer money”?

    If it is offered by a publisher, I know that *somebody* besides the writer thought the book was worth paying the writer to publish the book.

    Now just because “Joe Blow Publisher” thought it worth paying the writer to publish, it may still be a book that I won’t enjoy so I have to use other means to determine if I’ll like it.

    But with a self-published book, there’s good reason to suspect that it is so junky that nobody wanted to pay the writer.

    I’d have to take extra effort to determine if I’ll like it.

      1. How many books do you have to look through to find a “good” one? How much do you have to read of each one to know if it’s good or not. What is the ratio of “good” (for whatever value of “good” one has) to “not good”? When you add all that up, how much time is spent searching compared to spending reading the book once you find it?

        And how do those numbers change as more people choose self-publishing as an option?

        As someone who used to read slush I can easily see that without some sort of “pre-filter” (before I even get to looking at things like samples and the like) I could easily spend more time searching than reading what I find. That could lead to more time reading dreck (if only a page or two of each item) than reading something “good”. Not a good cost-benefit ratio there. That pre-filter is important.

        One major pre-filter is someone whose tastes I know saying “this is worth your time/money.” That pre-filter can be reviews, friends, folk online, or “this publisher who has published other stuff I like also thought this was worth publishing.” The middle two of those are a large part of the “word of mouth” that folk talk about. The other two are what “traditional publishing” has traditionally offered.

        One of the catches with “word of mouth” though is that it requires folk who have read the book, liked it, and then started telling others. Getting those initial sales can be something of a challenge. Some folk seem to do well with it. Others, not so much. And I’m not so sure that the “quality of the book” (however one defines it so long as the definition isn’t circular) has all that much to do with the result.

        1. David,
          I’ve answered this before in a post but WP is giving me issues with links. You’re looking at this ENTIRELY the wrong way. Look — you’re looking at it as a slush reader. As a slush reader, you have to read EVERYTHING that comes in. Your eyes cross, your nose drips, you start to cry… (Did you in your time get the submissions from the chick who stamped the envelope “Aliens ate my shorts.” Ah! Professionalism!) and you would rather do anything else. So you wander off and watch TV.

          What you should compare this to is to shopping for a book, because, duh, it’s what you’re doing. I don’t know how you used to do it. For us, it used to be a once-weekly expedition with our best friends (another married couple) to the local B & N. We got babysitters, then went to the store and wandered along, singly or two by two or — occasionally — all of us together, like when looking at the bargain bins. It took two to three hours and might be preceded by dinner, or followed by pastry and beverage. The experience itself was fun.

          Is shopping online less fun? A little. But we’re also walking less, there’s less involved in looking at covers, etc.

          The mental processes are the same, though. I’m out of stuff to read and (often) I’m shopping for some event. Like… we’re going to go to Denver for a weekend, which for me translates into a decadent experience of actually taking time off and laying about reading. (Hey, it’s almost the only days off I take. Weekends are housework around here.) Sometimes it’s more practical considerations, like… we’re going to fly across country. I’m never sure how kindle reception will be wherever, so I buy in advance. I tend to shop while waiting in line at the pharmacy; in the doctor’s waiting room; in the car waiting for the kid to come out of school — that sort of thing.

          First, it never in my life occurred to me to go to Amazon and think “I have to read all the new stuff.” I don’t think it occurs to anyone unless they are getting paid. (Does anyone pay for that?) Or even “I have to evaluate all the new stuff.”

          First there’s the obvious — same thing I used to do in bookstores: look for my favorite authors. Pratchett. F. Paul Wilson. Used to be Diana Wynne Jones, too RIP. Then if none of those have new stuff out (Why do writers write so slowly? er…) look at my second tier authors, the “I’m not dying for the new one, but it would be pleasant.”

          Right here, Kindle has a huge advantage (well, all electornic books do) — there’s no chance I missed the four weeks these high-midlisters actually had on the shelves. If they have anything new since the last one, it will be there. And some of them become first tier with exposure. Next time I pre-order them.

          Failing those (again, why do writers have to sleep and eat and stuff? WRITE! — writers don’t include self when in reader mode, duh) I move on to third tier, for whom the web is a huge boon. Why? Because these are authors I just discovered or perhaps read once or twice and found painless but not astounding. The problem here is that I have a lousy name memory. Even if I REALLY liked them, if I only read them once or twice, I won’t remember their names. So when I had to look by name, I often forgot these people. (There’s these historical mysteries set in the same time Agatha Christie wrote — i.e. between the wars — read two. Fell in that category. Never found them or the author again. NOW can’t remember the title. Walt Boyes suggested what he thought was them, but wasn’t.) Couldn’t find the new one. Now, perhaps I’m peculiar, but one thing I do remember — the name of the book. That’s easy enough to look up on Amazon and voila!

          But let’s imagine there’s none of those, or what I bought amounts to less than the time I’ll have for reading. Well, then, I look at potentials. It starts with filters. I don’t read Westerns. I don’t read contemporary romance (or much historical, unless I’m brain fried.) I don’t read thrillers, I don’t read Sex and the City Mysteries. Let’s say I’m in the mood for mysteries. I read amazingly broadly here — procedurals, cozies and historicals. But there are certain tones that turn me off. There are “the world is doomed” procedurals that raise my “ick” I usually can tell them from the description, and if not, I read two paragraphs and dismiss. Cozies — ditto. I can’t stand certain themes or certain voices. And historicals, I don’t like certain time periods. This usually means that even browsing on Amazon, I normally don’t normally download more than twenty samples per session. Do these seem like a lot? They’re not. Most of them get dismissed within a page or two. I don’t owe them more than I’d give a book I pulled off the shelf to try. Usually I end up buying three-four books per browsing session, same I did in the bookstore.
          The difference? About half of these are indie.
          How to be discovered and get word of mouth going? Well, reviews help, I suppose (I was never sure this was so) but most of all, regardless, I know I for one will shop by price. If you’re an unknown and under $5 you need to work a lot LESS hard to capture me than if you’re from a big house for $11. And when I find an independent I DO get all excited and tell all my friends. Is this marketing flawless? Well, no. But don’t compare it to perfect. Compare it to what we have: a newbie might be on the shelves in the four weeks that you didn’t go to the store. You’d never find him, even if you’d have loved him. Worse, he might be mishelved and since there’s only one book per store, even if you go in, you’ll never find him. Or he might never be unpacked… Whereas this way? Stands to reason the more ebooks you have out, the more chance someone will find you. So write. The beautiful thing is: they never go out of print. So you gain a reader with your tenth book, you just sold ten books, or more likely a 100 as word of mouth takes off.

      2. Sarah,
        I wonder if you realize how _not_ encouraging your description of book shopping is to the new writer looking at self publishing?

        I do much the same thing as you. Occasionally I’ll pick up a book just because I like the look at it and spend a minute or two looking at it to see if it might be something I want to read. But even there, it will generally be in a “high yield” field.

        Consider Westerns. On the whole, I don’t care much for the genre. I have, however, found a few that I’ve enjoyed. And, if I get a pointer that a particular title might be of interest to me I might seek it out and take a closer look. But what I won’t do is browse the “Western” section at the bookstore, or even the library, because the amount of time I’d have to spend going through books to find one that might meet my particular tastes is too much for the value I’ll get from the book once found. But somebody could have written the best Western (for my tastes) in the world and I’ll never see it (and they’ll never sell it to me) unless it gets brought to my attention.

        It’s the “getting it brought to my attention” (or the reverse, getting _my_ stuff brought to the attention of potential readers) that is my concern.

        I’m kind of talking at the interface of the reader’s and writer’s perspective. As a reader, I’ll find something to read. As a writer, that “something to read” doesn’t have to mean _my_ book. As a reader, I’m not going to search through every new release from every publisher (let alone every self-published writer out there). I don’t have to before I find something worth my soda and pizza money. As a writer that means I have to find some way to get _out_ of that pack of “every release from every publisher out there plus all the self-published works” (particularly as the number of self-published works grows) if I want to see that reader’s beer and pizza money.

        So I look at one side and then turn around and see how it seems likely to affect the other side and have some . . . concerns. There are probably on the order of several tens of thousands of slush submissions per year to just major the SF&F imprints. If a significant fraction of that were to start showing up as self-published work, well, I’d still find my Pournelle and Weber and, yes, even Hoyt self published or not. But would anybody find Burkhead?

        1. Dave — most of those slush submissions would come stamped with “the aliens ate my shorts.” I’m sorry, the really bad stuff we’ve downloaded (mostly my husband, because men need to do crazy stupid stuff, even if it’s just downloading insanity) was clearly signaled as awful by a) horrible description of contents or description misisng altogether. b) things like “I’ve never read science fiction, but how hard can it be to write” on the first page/author’s note. c) cover where the title is cut off halfway through. Etc. If you eliminate those mistakes, your story will stand out enough.

          It’s only discouraging because you don’t know how much I read. In my “downtime” when “not reading much” I read a book a day, easy. I run out of favorites very fast and actually right now, since the industry depth bombed my acquiring of new favorites with name changes and keep-away, I have tons of slots for new favorites. Now, absolutely you need to attract the power readers, as a newby. But frankly all you have to do is appeal to their interests and look clean and grammatically correct. They’ll find you. Stop flashing character and displaying grammatical leg. It’s not needed. They’ll find you. Trust me.

    1. Not such a big expense, really – the largest one is a professional and painstaking edit. Cover design, and formatting – hire a freelance artist/formatter, or do simple formatting yourself. Setting up with LSI as a boutique publisher is not that hard. You can acquire expertise, or hire it – your choice.
      My first novel – which came out almost five years agon – has paid back my expenses for it several times over, and it sells, even though I hardly do any marketing for it. A traditional publisher would have cut it off four years ago – but I am bringing out a second edition. For my books, I’d very much prefer to hire the editor, the designer, the publicist – knowing they worked for me, rather than take “hind teat” from a traditional publisher.

  19. I don’t have the money to pay for the kind of cover art and editing I’ll need. I don’t drive, so I can’t do the touring of the bookstores. I don’t have that big a name, so people aren’t going to look me up.
    If you’re going to self publish you really have to take time and effort out of your writing time to get it right. And that’s the important thing. I want to write. I don’t want to do the other stuff. If a publisher will pay me what I consider a fair deal and take care of some of the rest, then fine.
    Most of all, getting a contract with a big publishing house means they take the risk. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t use the houses to get your name out there. Call it loss leaders, if you want to. But getting your name in bookstores all over the country, featuring in ads in magazines and conventions is promotional gold dust.
    Proselytizing is good – if you’re an apostle. But me, I just want to make a decent living at what I do, so I do what I do. Mix and match.

    1. Lynne
      Part of me is going “I hear you sister.” I don’t like the other work of publishing. TRULY, I don’t. But when I got to your last sentence of your second paragraph I started laughing so I wouldn’t cry. Will you get your name in bookstores all over the country? Sure. If you have “an interesting story” — by which I don’t mean what you wrote, but your lifestory — or are willing to tour till you drop. On your own dime. Ads in magazines? Oh, my dear lord. In 21 books, I’ve had … well… outside Locus, which is often a group-add for the publisher and I doubt anyone pays TOO MUCH attention to those… uh… none. I had a set of adds I paid for way back when in the early oughts. Conventions, ditto. If you’re not there and you don’t promote, the publisher won’t do it for you. Not unless you pay for all the promotion.

      No, I am not in any way joking. Unless you get targeted as one of the “darlings” (and they’re pinched and doing that far less) you’ll have to do ALL your own promotion anyway. And all my friends who managed to pull “surprise bestseller” did so with “self made tours” — for which I have a similar impairment to yours. I DO drive, but I hate it.

      Now, your mail says UK and your milleage may vary a lot. I don’t know how the UK is. OZ is about… 10 years behind us on the ebook curve? So, you’d have to investigate your local conditions. But if going for US publication, look… first, try the UK first. Worked for PTerry and Rowling, after all, the first one after major delays, true, but still.

      Second, if you’re going for US publication — getting in the bookstores isn’t even a consideration here. Go to Kris Rusch’s posts and look up what she says about how bookstores are stocking now. There is a reason a friend of mine calls her bookstore trips “Getting disappointed by B & N.” Unless you’re there for picture books, cookbooks or “reading associated merchandise” you’ll be disappointed. You’ll have to do all your own publicity, which often costs more than the advance. And you’re putting everything in someone else’s hands.

      Is it sometimes worth it? Well, I’m not leaving Baen (And I could list the reasons why, but it starts with “dedicated brand-conscious readership” and ends with “I like them.”)

      So, there are reasons to go with a publisher, but few of them — other than taking the technical stuff out of your hands — are the ones you mention. The one that is — the tech stuff — might be work-aroundable. From what I understand some of the “preparers for publication” will take some percentage — usually 15 to 20% of earnings in lieu of upfront payment, but the book is still yours to make decisions on.

      1. Sarah,

        Minor nit: “Getting your book in bookstores all over the country” is not the same as “getting your book in every bookstore in the country.” From the process your described, a book would get in _some_ bookstores (which bookstores would be in different locations scattered about thus “all over the country”) by sheer random chance from simply being in the publisher’s catalog since no reason is given to pick your book over that book over there.

        Not many bookstores, so stipulated, and not many copies in each, again, so stipulated, but _some_. And the question I have asked before is what would it take for a self-published author to get the same kind of “penetration” into that market? (Wayne, I believe it was, who interpreted that question as how much would the author have to spend to match what the publisher spends, instead of what I wanted to know, how much would the author have to spend to get the same results that the publisher gets simply by putting the book in their catalog.)

        Every time I go to a bookstore I find books by new “first time” authors so at least _some_ get out there. So what would I need to get _mine_ out there to a similar should I go the self-publishing route? Of is that market closed to me?

        1. Dave
          I don’t know. It’s not a matter of not getting them in all the bookstores. Most of the time you don’t get them in “some.” As for I don’t know — in CO and in the two cities where I go to bookstores, they have more local self-pubbed authors than they have of my books. (Which often until DST was none.) What do you have to do? Well, those authors I know visit these bookstores and push and do signings.

          The “first timers” you find are 90% “what’s being pushed.” Which are 1% of the authors those houses publish. This means your chance of being there is minimal.

          Something to consider is that medium and small houses often have more bookstore penetration for someone because they push EVERY author. So that might be worth it. As is the time of drive you guys have been doing with LIH.

  20. For cover art, check out the DeviantArt site. Tons of artists there and many of them are open to commissions.

  21. I’m actually there. I write for digital first publishers (the larger ones like Samhain and Ellora’s Cave). You get no advance, or a token one, and higher royalties. Much higher royalties. Some of my books come out in paperback, too.
    See what I mean? I’m not exactly a household name, even though my 41st book has just come out I’ve been trying for a long time to get a Mills and Boon/Harlequin book. Because then you get your books in every bookstore, even if it’s only for a few weeks. The money? Forgettaboutit. But one of the best promotional tools you can have. It’s getting the news out there without getting up people’s noses that’s the hard part.

    1. I find myself a bit skeptical about _every_ bookstore. Some bookstores, certainly, but every one? Unless you are a household name I just don’t see that happening.

  22. Now, that’s a rant. And a good one, too. Thanks for the great perspective.

    I’m so excited about the opportunities out there. I’m diving in with my first independent publication this fall and will have probably two more books out before Christmas if editing goes the way I’m hoping. Never gone the traditional route and I’m happy to make my own way. I’m just glad that the opportunities for it exist now.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  23. One major expense for publishers would be their sales reps. Let’s assume there be a place for brick and mortar stores to continue. Who will go sell (push, encourage) the new covers to them? Particularly new authors or the up and coming (but still relatively unknown) midlist authors? Are self-publishers locked into on-line sales (and ebook format, of course.)

  24. Thanks. Great post.

    There was a time when I had maybe the forlorn hope of maybe selling something to Baen or Tor someday–nobody else will even look at an unagented manuscript these days.

    Then I discovered indie publishing, and it took maybe five minutes to decide it was the route I wanted to follow.

    Since then, however, I have learned from blogs like these how very wretched my chances actually were under the old system.

    I had no idea.

  25. Howdy, Sarah,

    I did not write the original post at Baen’s Bar, but I can understand why the original author did. I have contacted authors about the presence, or absence, of DRM-free epubs that I can load on to my ipad. I would hope I was polite, because rudeness rarely works out well, but I do hope I was both honest and clear – I prefer DRM free epubs for my ipad, and my buying is influenced by that.

    When it comes time to buy another dozen books, I start at Baen, then go to Smashwords, and finally check out Amazon or B&N. I am starting to navigate the indies that sell directly too. If you are published on your own site, or at Baen, I am more likely to buy your book than if I must go through B&N. I bought both Ghost Story and the Iron Druid series earlier this year, DRM and all, but those were exceptions. I passed on Kevin Anderson’s Ill Wind, until I spotted it at smashwords. I am glad I saw it – I enjoyed it.

    My buying pattern is in no way a threat. It is, though, some data you might not otherwise get. I understand just how hard it is to make a living at this – half my wife’s family is trying to make a go of it – and data might help. You have the choice of whether to indie publish, publish on your web site, or go through the publishers that want your books, and every one of those choices involve risks.

    Knowing that at least some customers might be more likely to buy your books if you go indie might inform that decision, but knowing that a book at Baen is more likely to be bought than a something self published also might inform it the other way.

    You know the risk/reward tradeoff better than I. I am just one reader, but I do buy books, and having some idea of when and why might help you make your own decisions.

    1. Scott,

      You do realize that you are telling Sarah that you want her to take a guaranteed financial hit to the tune of almost all her income?

      Now. Stop sputtering, shut up, and listen.

      There is not one author with the power to convince any publisher to drop DRM. Not one. The best Rowling could do was to withhold ebook rights and epublish them herself. Like it or not, the legacy publishers still have most of the money and still support almost all of the relative handful of writers who are able to earn a living off it.

      When a snotty fan comes up and tells them he won’t buy their books because they sell with DRM and what are they going to do about it – whether that fan is polite or not – most authors are going to want to say something unprintable. Or possibly kill the idiot who thinks Author X will cheerfully sacrifice his livelihood for someone whose sole sacrifice is to not read something they clearly didn’t want that much anyway.

      Pull your head out, go and read the post Sarah made today about the 99% of stuff about a book that she doesn’t have any control over. If you think you can manage a reasoned discussion, Sarah might let you back.

      You’re lucky this isn’t my site – I’m being polite on Sarah’s turf.

      1. Kate,

        Please reread what I wrote. I do not see snotty anywhere in it. Nor do I see any point where I told her to quit her current publishing contracts. In point of fact, I seem to recall stating that I check Baen, one of her primary publishers IIRC, first, before I look at Indie sites.

        I would be a bit surprised if she would be happier not knowing that, but it is her call. She has my email from the comment form, and I would respect a request to change the subject, or to leave entirely.


    2. Scott,

      I am one of the most anti-drm folks out there. I think it is an insult to the reader and a red flag to everyone who likes a challenge. Most authors — and yes, I am an author as well as an editor — feel that way. But, as I’ve said over on MGC, here on occasion and on the bar, there is very little they can do to change a publisher’s mind about it.

      Sure, an author can take into account the few emails they have received saying they won’t buy a book because of DRM and decide not to go through traditional publishing for their next title. However, there are a couple of problems with that. If that author has an agent, there’s a contract with that agent to place the book. Now, the agent might agree to let the writer out of the contract for that book or they might decide to tell the writer it has to be “published” through their agency assisted publishing venture.

      The next problem is the contract with the writer’s current publisher. Most publishing contracts with legacy publishers have a clause in them that requires the writer to submit their work to said publisher first. That means the publisher can decide not only not to publish the work but, if the contract is worded in a certain way, that it can’t be published anywhere else.

      There are other risks as well. By self-publishing, there is no money in hand from an advance. Money the author may rely upon to help pay rent, buy food, etc. Also, as noted in a previous comment, the author has to pay for editing, cover art, formatting, conversion. Then the author has to get the work uploaded to various e-tailers. Even if the author does all of that himself, it still costs him…it costs him in time he could be writing.

      Frankly, it amazes me that people are so hot under the collar about drm, especially when you consider that there are readily available plug-ins for programs like calibre to strip the drm out (Disclaimer here: Neither I nor Sarah are advocating that anyone strip drm from a title nor do we advocate piracy of ebooks). Everyone keeps reminding those of us who aren’t up in arms over the inclusion of drm about how this is a lesson we should have learned from the music industry. It tried drm and failed. Well, give this time and you will see it fail in legacy publishing as well. The only time drm is going to be needed is when it comes to loaning ebooks through libraries.

      Finally, please consider who actually needs to hear from you about your choices. It’s not the authors, especially since they are generally helpless in this battle unless they want to go without money in pocket. It’s the publishers.

      1. Hi Amanda,

        these tools are highly problematic. In Germany for example the /possession/ can be constructed as a felony. Again, not the use, the possession.

        Since I don’t like to rent my books -I do that in a library, thank you- I simply won’t buy books with DRM.
        No discussion whatsoever. (And no, I can’t be bothered to pirate them either.)

        OTOH why should I tell the author about this? I don’t.
        I’ve voted with my money and that has to be enough.

        Will some good authors suffer because of this?
        Probably, but the more I read (US) publishing industry related blogs and other information the more I come to the conclusion that this is the way things are, have been, and will be for a while yet unless you sell consistently sell 7 figure numbers of books.

        1. Chasm,
          I vote with my money too. I just know the level of stress my people are at right now. And BTW, I’ve got prissy notes (not from Baenites, they were about my historical on Henry VIII’s wife) on how the book was too expensive in ebook, so they weren’t buying it. And well… what DID they expect me to do. It immediately makes it my problem, and I CAN’T do anything. So I offered the the unchecked version and they seemed confused. “We’d never accept it for free. We pay authors.” Head>desk. So… WHAT did they want me to do?

      2. @Sarah
        Both of us (most of the other commentators too) obviously know that you can’t do much, if anything. =)
        Unfortunately DST is a Baen title or I would start complaining about the pricing, availability and whatnot of #2 and #3. It’s the second time that you mentioned sending out the MS to complainers to shut them up. 😉 😛

        And for everyone who did not get the smilies, No, I don’t pull such stunts.

      3. Amanda:

        In reverse order: of course publishers are the primary ones who need to hear what customers want, and will pay for. I ping them too on occasion.

        As far as the risks, agreed. That was what I was alluding to when I mentioned the risk/reward tradeoff. Sadly, the crystal ball is not clear – I see no easy way to figure out what will work well, and it looks very much like very similar authors are coming to very different conclusions. Justifiably.

        Now, how much should an author “take into account a few emails”? Got me. I am not an author with a following. I have no idea how many such missives an author gets, and what fraction of them turn into books sales. I do know, though, from doing indie software that most requests do not turn into sales. It is wise to doubt a vague “do this and I will buy” letter. Specific ones, on the other hand, might be worth some thought.

        How Sarah, or any other reader, uses that information has to be up to them. They know their constraints, their risks, and their contracts far better than I do.


        1. Scott,

          Here’s the thing — read that post again. IF I was putting up with all that (and more I didn’t go into) rather than go Indie… what effect do you think letters would have except throw me into depression? (And trust me, back even a year ago, I was circling very close to the depression drain due — mostly — to lack of options.) And yes, I still have to go indie besides Baen. Various reason — Baen doesn’t do mystery or certain types of fantasy and baen is not electronic on Amazon … which is the other batch of “what do you expect me to do” letters I get. At least those I can give the link at Baen. Yes, half of them will still cry that there’s no “send it to kindle” button.

          Let me be blunt here — writers, at least those who work for Baen — know what a farce DRM is. Heck, as readers we know it. The days of authors crying that publishers should DRM their books to the hilt are long past.

          I don’t know how many authors still believe the publisher SHOULD price their books higher than the hard cover. My people, bless them, can be on the dizzy side about business. However I KNOW from my mystery side that I have ZERO input on that price. And that if there weren’t other considerations (too lengthy to go into) I would continue publishing with them (because they get into all the little independents that are still a significant part of mystery.) All telling me people are not going to buy my book becaus… does is make me more frustrated. Add to that, btw, that there are some serious shenenigans going on with ebook reporting, and you’ll see writers don’t need telling — they know. Do publishers need telling? I think so. It’s hard to tell. Editors at least maintain that they need the ridiculous prices and DRM. Whehter they’re repeating a line, I don’t know. If you contact publishers, email the legal dept. (they have people whose sole job is pulling unauthorized copies off sites) the marketing dept, and the particular dept that published the book. You have a MUCH better chance of getting action from the publisher, at least if they get 100 emails or so.

    3. Scott, I’m puzzled. Do you write to many people in other professions and give them unsolicited advice? Tell people practicing law that they should go to truck diving school, because you saw something about it a late-night TV ad? Find a doctor with a midling practice and advise him to become a bricklayer’s apprentice, because you have a second cousin twice removed who is working as a bricklayer’s apprentice and may be getting a good job review?

      Then why do people who break out in mental hives at the mention of DRM take it upon themselves to offer career advice to professionals, who are working in a profession that the “advisor” knows nothing about?

      1. Assuming you are being serious, rather than rhetorical…

        Three painters made a bid on my recent house painting job. The one that got the job had a decent bid and decent references. It was actually the middle bid, not the lowest.

        One came in 40% over the wining bid. Telling him that his bid was priced out of the market was not telling him his business. It was, however, telling him why he did not get the job.

        Telling a doctor that recommending their own fad diet book and licensed meal packages is, perhaps, causing some doubt about the impartiality of their diagnosis is not telling them their business. It is, though, telling them why I am not going to come back.

        I really do not think telling an author my buying habits is telling them their business. I would like to think my comments above were pretty clear – I spend money in a certain order. Whether it is worth changing her techniques, or her risk profile, is really her call. It seems, though, that not having that information would make it harder.

      2. Scott,

        Now imagine instead of telling the boss (or his or her appointed “front man/woman”) of that contracting company that, you instead told one of the laborers something like “your boss is a jerk.” You might get a “well, yeah,” or a “what do you expect _me_ to do about it?” but seriously, what good does it do?

        The author has no control over whether the publisher uses DRM or not. The _only_ thing the author can do is leave that publisher. But, there’s a problem. There’s no guarantee that if you leave one publisher someone else will pick you up. And it does not good for the books that the first publisher already has since they still have those books (unless the criteria for reversion of rights occurs and the author successfully reverts those rights).

        If you want to talk to someone talk to the folk who might have some influence, not the folk who are as much victims of the system as are the readers.

  26. Wow, it just amazes me the number of people who think they know more about the publishing game than Sarah. People who haven’t published or who have yet to publish more than a novel or two. For those of you who say you will never sign away all your rights, no matter what the money, bully for you. I hope you’re willing to never do business with a major publisher. Hell, I hope your willing to never do business with most small publishers as well.

    I’m going to use small words and type this very slowly. Anyone can self-publish. You, too, can join the tens of thousands of wannabes out there who will never sell more than a handful of their titles.

    It is still a truth that most readers believe a book that comes from a publisher is a better book than one that is self-published. Like it or not, but writers are in this to make money. At least they are if they’re being honest with themselves. There is no guarantee you will ever recover your expenses if you self-publish, especially if you are a new author. That means, like it or not, many writers have to deal with mainstream publishers and they will NOT sign a contract that doesn’t include print and digital right and other rights not yet discovered.

    As for Sarah not being encouraging about the state of the industry right now, what do you want? Rainbows and pink, fluffy clouds. Look at the blogs. Look at the numbers that are coming out. Publishing isn’t exactly flourishing. If it was, we’d still have Borders. Yes, e-book sales are increasing at an amazing rate, but they are still a small percentage of overall sales.

    If you want easy, writing isn’t the career for you. And maybe that’s the difference between those who don’t seem to understand that a writer can’t just walk away from an advance that helps pay their bills. They aren’t looking at writing as a career, as a JOB. And guess what folks, most of us want to get paid for our work.

  27. Having followed this months-long discussion of how the publishing biz is, how it has been and how it is changing — and not having any dog in the fight — one thing is become quite clear to me: Sarah Hoyt is NOT expressing her views on how the industry OUGHT be (if she were I would guess providing authors with assistants to give neck & shoulder massages, do the dusting and laundry so the writer can focus on producing content and serving chocolate chip mint ice cream would feature prominently.)

    No, here’s what she is doing: she has been up the mountain and peered across the wide water and this is what she sees, here is the map.

    She isn’t claiming the map is completely accurate, she doesn’t claim “here be dragons, here be none,” she isn’t claiming the path she is scouting is the only way to go.

    What she is claiming is that the fertile fields in which the tribe of authors has been living are looking at a long, long drought and that authors who want to eat had best look for new paths to the happy hunting grounds where readers are insatiable, discriminating and generous. She is claiming that there is A path for those who want to explore it.

    This is a map. It is not a Triple-A Triptych, some of the restaurants may be more than a little greasy, the restrooms may not be sparkling clean and there’s no guarantee the pickings at Trail’s End won’t be lean. But it is a path for those interested in exploring it. If you don’t like the path then don’t follow it, but what’s the point of declaiming how you don’t LIKE it?

    I dunno, maybe I should have gone with the Feudal metaphor instead, with The Publishers as Lords of the Manors, readers as sheep to be sheared and writers as serfs hoping to get a larger share of the fleece. Except if I go thataway I don’t see how I eschew bad animal husbandry jokes and the problems consonant with Droit du seigneur.

    Somehow I can’t shake the feeling that fifty years ago people in the SF field were saying, “Bob, are you nuts? SF readers don’t WANT hardbound stories, they want their SF in magazines where editors ensure the quality of the content. You try selling it in books and stores won’t carry it and libraries won’t shelve it.”

    1. RES,

      You don’t want to share your animal husbandry jokes with us? AWwwww

      I really wanted to see you exercising your Droit du seigneur, too.

      1. My apologies for insufficient clarity: it would be the publisher adroitly exercising their Droit.

        To Sarah: warning unnecessary; I would never engage an Aussie on the topic of sheep and animal husbandry.

        1. LOL. Now you’re in trouble. She tells me this is New Zelanders not Aussies. I’d advise you to duck. I’m right here, in the corner. Pssst. Behind the bookcase. Yeah, I have a secret bunker. Don’t worry. She does this all the time. Once she expends the nukes, we’re okay.

    2. YES. RES. YES. Thank you. You get it. I HAVE NOT been writing in Mandarin Chinese. (Which is good, since I don’t understand it!)

      Well, except for mint ice cream! Ew. What are you thinking? I’m a rocky road gal!

      1. ChocoChipMint is a common analgeasic and was cited here as representative of such usage, not as a prediction of your frozen dairy predilection. My gravest regrets for impugning your flavour fetishes.

  28. I recently tried to buy John F Carr’s Kalvan books, but found out they are only available for Kindle. I have a Nook. I had a nice online chat with an Amazon.com representative, after asking if the books are DRM’d. They checked and told me they were, and I made(politely), many of the points often seen on Baen’s Bar, ending with the statement that if publishers wanted to treat their customers like thieves, they would be thieves. I do not have the expertise to strip DRM from a crippled ebook, so I made the point to Amazon that I would not be buying the book and they were losing a sale.

    I can’t reach the various publishers, but maybe the major retailers of ebooks could put pressure on the publishers.

  29. Chasm, you are absolutely right. As for the tools, that’s why I made sure I put the disclaimer in. There are so many different laws with regard to them that I don’t want anyone, myself included, to get in trouble.

    I tend to “vote” the same way you do, with my pocketbook. I also write what I hope are cogent, well-reasoned e-mails to the publishers who still insist on adding DRM to their books.

    The change is going to come as more best sellers refuse to release digital rights at the low royalty payments and onerous contractual terms the main publishers want to impose. Until then, all authors can do is make sure they have intellectual property attorneys vet their contracts before signing. There will come, sooner rather than later, enough law suits fighting not only the royalty reporting system but the one-sided contractual terms to help put the chink in the armor, so to speak.

    1. Again, laws are very different in the various nations, In Germany such a disclaimers are used to proof intent. 😉 More importantly it is also judged so, which in turn has dire consequences for any attempt to plea negligence or ignorance.

      But back to topic.
      It is important to keep a few things apart. i.e. Harassing authors, writing to the publisher and thus won’t buy their ebooks but also stating that you don’t like DRM in a discussion about DRM.

      At the moment there seems to be a trend in the various places this discussion takes place to lump them together and beat the s**t our of them – which does not really help.

      That said, change is coming to the publishing industry. Some of the big ones will change or simply weather the storm, the rest will -as they always do- merge. Some of those we have pegged for survival will sink.
      Nobody knows.
      Thus it is even more important to be informed. If you are stumbling blindly chances are that you WILL fall into the abyss. (I’ll just say: non compete clause) They open up faster than almost anyone can follow, OTOH some did close. (What did everyone, inside and outside the industry, know about self publishing 5 years ago?) So not everything about the future is a complete disaster. =)

      1. Germany is NOT a civilized country. Sorry. They made me pay to go to the bathroom. Fortunately it was pre-euro, so I used the Portuguese quarter of an escudo which was the size/weight of a Deutsch Mark — yes, I realize it was currency fraud. Actually it was pee fraud. I needed to pee and had no German coins (yet.) 😛 Never put crime between a woman and her bathroom. The crime WILL happen.

        I totally agree with you on the topics not being together. I don’t like DRM. I also don’t like being put in a position where nothing I will do will appease the fans.

        And talking to several friends, the change is coming in about two years. It’s all of our internal feeling. And no, in this turmoil you never know who’ll survive and who won’t.

      2. @Sarah
        Of course not. Being different would damage all those prejudices about Germany. 😉
        But actually, that one was a trap for tourists and the unwary. Restaurants (but also all places you can buy food and sit down to eat it) were obliged to have toilets, free of charge, for their customers.
        Why the past tense? That was true until 2005 when at least in some states an administrative reform threw out some old regulations and “coincidentally” raised the lower limit of seats from 1 to 200…

        1. Chasm,
          It was mostly a joke, though I think having that in train stations and airports, where people might not have the money. Also, what were they thinking when they built Frankfurt airport with no water fountains and a dearth of bathrooms? That they’d cancel each other out?

          But charging for public bathrooms is fine, if they’re clean. (Which they were in Germany.) Portugal might be better off doing that. (Though it would inaugurate a new sport of finding ways to get around the machines, because in Portugal laws happen to other people.)

      3. @Sarah.
        I got the joke, I think. 😉

        Frankfurt… Oh my, that one is easy.
        Frankfurt tries to emulate NYC. The stock exchange, the largest collection of skyscrapers (as far as we have any in the first place) and also quite a few publishers although Munich has the edge on that. That said, publishers are definitely not as concentrated and spread all over the nation.

  30. Thanks for this post. I enjoyed it and learned some things. Also, though it’s off topic, I thought I’d mention that since you are Portuguese you might enjoy “Do Tampons Take Your Virginity?: A Catholic Girl’s Memoir” by Marie Simas, which is a chronicle of her experiences growing up in a Portuguese family and community. It’s the first Kindle book I ever bought. The author left a comment on Joe Konrath’s site and I thought her book sounded interesting so I risked 99 cents on it and was happy to find it was money well spent.

    1. LOL — this is the problem. Part of the reason I couldn’t use my Portuguese background is that my family was SO ODD. I realized I was completely different from all my friends when I started having sleep overs. Honestly, I can’t imagine my family wondering about that question, so from there on, the book would probably read weird to me.

      Yes, I am odd. I bought Stranger in a Strange Land at thirteen without knowing where the quote came from, because the title soudned like me. The day I got American citizenship, I cried because I finally had a home.

      Then again maybe I’m not so odd. The Australian menace who posted elsewhere on this topic (Kate Paulk. D*mn fine writer in her own right, btw) is afraid of reading anything set in Australia. You see, there are so many micro cultures, she’s afraid she’ll feel like either it’s wrong or she’s not really from there. It makes one uncomfortable.

      1. The title caught my eye because I had known a Spanish woman who seemed to believe that very thing and therefore wouldn’t let her daughters use Tampons. When I purchased it, I assumed it would be a humor book. Woah, it definitely wasn’t! However, when I reset my expectations and continued reading, I found it irresistible (though a little unsettling at times) and was glad I’d discovered it. Score a point for the Kindle.

  31. I came over from Kris Rusch’s blog (saw the link in the comment section). I went between nodding and laughing through the post. I’ve already directed several authors over to read it.

    Oh, and you just made my blog link section. 😛

    1. There’s a link in Kris’ blog comments? Honestly I thought being linked by the Passive Voice was the apex of my career. I am now in awe. My blogging life is complete!

  32. Fantastic post.

    I’ve always looked at publishing rather warily, because I often end up thinking, “Hey, I don’t like the sound of that.” The accountability for something (sales numbers) that someone else (the publisher) controls? That sorta thing contributed to me quitting my day job.

    That said, I have a few projects in the works that I’ll run by the publishing industry before I self-pub, but I’ll be watching the terms carefully.

  33. It may seem like common knowledge to the talent involved in the day to day developments of indie publishing, but what you’ve learned is not common knowledge. You’ve perceptively analyzed the current publishing landscape and placed your career in your own control. Most authors think traditional publishing will soldier on and things will return to the old normal. I don’t believe this will happen for a minute, so those talented folks who carve a new path through the indie jungle will be way ahead of the pack.

  34. I can add one thing: Waterstones, a big bookshop chain over here in the UK, DOES accept self-published books provided you list them with Gardners, one of the two big wholesale booksellers in the UK. You have to offer it at a minimum 60% discount in order for Waterstones to consider it, I believe this is what the publishers also have to do, and then if they like it, they’ll stock it.

    So it is possible to get a self-published book into bookshops all over the UK and also in Europe (Waterstones has around 300 shops in total, I believe), at least. Whether it’s cost-effective or not is a completely different issue.

    I’m currently considering doing an offset print run (at some point in the future if I’ve had what I consider to be sufficient online sales) in order to make it cost-effective to put my books into Waterstones. That might be via Lightning Source or another offset printers – there are plenty of them about.

    These days, anything a publisher can do, so can you. If you’re sticking online, you don’t have to pay anything upfront at all. Createspace and Smashwords do not charge you to publish your work. Lightning Source and any other printer will, which is why they’re not top of my list.

  35. What a remarkable post. Thank you.

    It’s interesting to note recurrent patterns of abuse which follow from imbalanced power relationships. I really, really like what you’re saying and though I do have blue eyes, I count myself among those inclined to write but disinclined to kiss up to New Yorkers. Though I’m no bolshie, I really like the idea of decapitating these royals.

    Historically traditional publishers have advanced the narrative that “vanity press” titles are trash. Now, they are advancing the narrative that indie titles are trash. The whole gatekeeper thing is an easy sell when titles have apparent copy-editing errors.

    I like the mental image of sorting through the bargain bin. It’s a great counter-narrative.

    I had thought that maybe Indie authors could band together to create a sort of guild that would take over some of the tasks of traditional publishers–replacing their evil blue-eyed devils with our blue-eyed gatekeepers.

    Not as good as the idea you advanced just now: Put together a buying circle of friends and split the work of sorting through indie titles between them.

  36. Your post is heartfelt. Thanks for sharing some of the pain and misery that comes with being traditionally published. It reinforces my decision as the right one for me to go it alone and put my novels out into the world myself.

    Oh, there’s still moments, snarky reviews by some book review bloggers and self-doubt that can creep in from time to time. But, overall, the core readers that I’ve been gathering along the way in the past three months love my work and the unsolicited reviews from strangers raving about the books makes it all worth it.

    So, jump in ~ the water’s fine. Your Shakespeare series sounds like a fun place to start. Thanks for sharing your story.

  37. I came over from the Business Rusch (now you have a link in her post, not just the comments! Your future eulogy is now complete!) and I absolutely love your approach.


  38. Oh my….I just finished going through a little horror story of my own with a publisher. I was SO excited to get accepted by this publisher after three other rejections. Ironically I said if I was rejected once more, I was going to self-publish my book, “Spellbound by Fire.”

    But this publisher accepted me and I was ecstatic, like many naive writers are. Initially, my release date was set for Sept. 15, 2011. I was told this back in May. In August, my publisher emailed me and said due to “production scheduling” my book’s release date was pushed to Nov. 16, 2011. I kept in contact with the publisher, who often didn’t answer her emails. Finally, in the first week of November, I discovered that the editing process hadn’t even started on “Spellbound.” It meant that the release date would have been delayed again. The frustration grew, especially with the fact that the royalties were only 10 per cent for print copies and 35 per cent for eBooks. The day after finding out the release would be delayed, I discovered, to my horror, that the publisher distributed only through third party websites like Amazon and Smashwords. That infuriated me because I could have done that MONTHS ago by self-publishing. My cover art barely reflected what my book is about. And to top it off, a close writer friend of mine advised me that the publisher had a less than mediocre reputation. I did some research and discovered stories about how their editing was despicable, readers commenting how they wouldn’t buy a book from this company, and even other writers expressing unhappiness with this publisher.

    I emailed the publisher the next day and informed them I was terminating my contract with them as I felt that self-publishing would be the better route for me. Not even two weeks later, I am closer to releasing “Spellbound by Fire” than I was at the beginning of the month and much closer doing it myself than I would have been other wise. I have a cover I adore, and my editor is over halfway done editing my book and I know I am getting excellent quality editing. My release is only off by a few weeks- “Spellbound by Fire” is set to come out at the end of this month or the first week of December. I am doing everything myself and am set to make WAY more money off my book. I am totally content with this decision.

    Needless to say, I am with you. I will never go the route of dealing with a publisher again for as long as I am able to do everything myself.

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