The Gospels of Publishing
We start this service with a reading from The Book of Maass:
“…because some authors are now—voluntarily!—willing to bear the expense and undertake the effort of building an audience by themselves, print publishers have the luxury of culling the prize cattle from the herd. Even print-only distribution deals with a handful of successful e-published authors are terrific: easy pickings and effortless profit. Most authors are still knocking at the gate, too, since after all seventy percent of trade book sales are of print editions. In many ways these are good times for print publishers.”
“…the self-publishing movement has produced gold-rush hysteria in the writing community. While not exactly a mass delusion, questionable beliefs have been widely accepted. True believers sneer at doubters. So what is the real truth? High success at self-publishing has happened only for a few who have mastered the demanding business of online marketing. A larger, but still small, number of authors have achieved a modest replacement income from self-publishing. Growth from there will be hard for them, however, because wide print distribution still is needed.”
“…the position of the vast majority of self-publishing authors is no better than it ever was, though probably there are fewer cartons of books in their garages. Consultancy to self-publishers is a new job category, however, and that has to be good for the nation’s employment stats.”
And now, a reading from The Book of Konrath:
“…The royals vs. the peasants. The bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat. The establishment vs. the revolutionaries. The haves vs. the have-nots. The gatekeepers spouting bullshit vs. the new breed of writers calling them on their bullshit.“
“…for those countless midlist authors stuck with unconscionable contracts because they had no choice, and the multitude of authors kept out of the industry by gatekeepers such as yourself, it didn’t work. It actually sucked wheelbarrows full of ass. Your industry f***ed the majority of writers it provided services for. And that same industry was built on the sweat, tears, toil, and blood of those very writers it exploited.”
“…we talk to each other. We read each others’ contracts. We know how much we can earn on our own. And more and more of us believe the publishers you work for are, indeed, evil f**ks.”
The emphasis in the above excerpts was added by me. I recommend reading the full posts if this is a conversation you’re interested in.
Personally, I find it frustrating and tiresome. Look, I’ve been the author who got crapped on by a major publisher, and I’ve been the author who got book deals in the mid five figures. I’ve hung out with New York Times bestselling authors. I’ve hung out with self-published authors who have moved hundreds of thousands of books. I’ve watched friends move from self-publishing to traditional publishing, and I’ve seen traditionally published authors move into self-publishing.
This whole Us vs. Them thing? It’s bullshit. Traditional publishing isn’t Evil. (Certain individuals within that system, well, that’s another blog post…) Self-publishing and e-books aren’t asteroids coming to wipe out the Dinosaurs. And there’s no One True Path to success as an author.
I’m doing rather well as a mostly traditionally published author, but I’ve had people come along to tell me how stupid I am for not self-publishing. They lay out math full of ridiculously flawed assumptions and generalizations to “prove” how much more I’d be making if I published my own e-books. It’s possible they might be right — maybe I would do even better — but it’s in no way a sure thing. They assume everything my agent and publisher do for me, either I could do just as well myself, or else it isn’t really necessary.
You see it from the other side too, the idea that self-publishing doesn’t count. I haven’t personally seen as much of this side, but I suspect I’d see it a lot more if I was a primarily self-published author.
You want “the real truth”? Here’s some truth for you.
- There are authors doing ridiculously, amazingly well with traditional publishing.
- There are authors doing incredibly, mind-blowingly well with self-publishing.
- There aren’t a hell of a lot of people in either category.
- Being a writer is hard work, no matter what path you choose.
It’s that last bit I want to stress. There are plenty of paths out there, which is wonderful, but it’s also nerve-wracking. Which way is the right way for me? What if I make the wrong choice? What if those people are right, and I really would be doing better if I’d self-published all of my stuff instead of going through a traditional publisher? What if I self-publish my stuff and nobody ever finds it?
I wonder if that anxiety is part of why so many people are quick to cling to that false Us vs. Them framework. Personally, I think Maass’ view of writers as cattle is insulting and ridiculous, but if I tell myself that he’s representative of all of Them, then clearly I’m on the side of Right by self-publishing. When I see a self-published author repeatedly spamming people online and desperately shoving self-promotional material into people’s hands at conventions, all to promote a book with a cover that looks like it was done in MS Paint, a part of me wants to cling to that as proof that I’m better off with my publisher. I have to remind myself that this isn’t The Awful Truth of self-publishing.
I love reading folks like Tobias Buckell and Chuck Wendig, or watching what the authors over at Book View Cafe have been up to. These are people who avoid the Us vs. Them trap, who admit there’s more than one way to succeed as a writer. They try different things, and they acknowledge different paths.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t read what Maass or Konrath have to say. Just don’t fall into the trap of believing there’s One True Path. We’re all figuring this out, and the path that’s worked for me might not be the right one for you. In fact, it probably isn’t, since mine started almost two decades ago.
Do your research. Learn about the different possibilities. And make your own path.
February 9, 2014 @ 3:09 pm
It would be boring, if any side would hold the holy grail of complete and utter truth. I think traditional publishing will continue to exist but in the course it will be transformed to a more open, flexible system in order to compete with self-publishing.
Publishing as an author will become a tougher job (and it is already one of the toughest i know; if you pitted a hungry young author against a Marine squad it would be gone in a second). Too many will compete for the readers attention without wanting monetary compensation.
They key for success will be building a reliable “returning customer base”. Reader engagement like that of Jim or John Scalzi will play a crucial role.
February 9, 2014 @ 3:35 pm
As always, Jim, I love your post. I think you make a very important point. That said, what is to be done about the active prejudice out there among the community against small press/ self-publishing?
As a small press author for a press I adore (Hadley Rille Books), the promotion road is hard going, as I, and my books, are viewed as “less than” by other authors, bookstores, and the publishing community at large. My local area (LA/ San Diego) indie bookstores won’t return my calls or emails about signing in their store, yet bemoan the fact on PW that “authors won’t come sign.” What they mean is, “big name” authors, with well-known publishers stamped on the side of their novels; I am treated with disdain for just stepping into their store, as though I’m going to poison it with my presence. Big bookstores won’t carry small press except online, and it’s hard to get new readers if people can’t see and touch the novels that my press beautifully produces. We are passed over for book talks and not considered as instructors for certain well-known workshops, even when the authors and editors are friends of ours and state that they love and respect our work. Hell, even my own city library refuses to let me come and speak, and they even attempted to return the book I donated to them despite my glowing review in Booklist.
It’s ironic how there is so much discussion of “otherness” and inclusion in the SFF community, but nobody seems to feel that the nasty comments they make about small press or independent authors in our community is hurtful. I’ve even been treated to the whole “but not YOUR books, of course,” as though that makes the Us vs. Them attitude feel any better. IMO? If we’re all authors working toward the same goal, why does the manner in which we’re published matter? I was accepted into small press, and I stay here by choice. Why does that make me less than everyone else when I work just as hard for hours to get words on the page, to edit those words, and to get them into readers’ hands?
The biggest problem, as I see it, is that the community itself needs to be more accepting of all authors– big press, small press, self-published, aspiring– and understand that we aren’t a threat to one another, that we all work toward the same goals. Eliminating prejudice and challenging assumptions (not all small press or self-pubbed covers look like they were done in MS Paint, btw) and reaching out more to one another might help change all of publishing for the better.
February 9, 2014 @ 3:38 pm
While generalizations may not be helpful, and infighting between authors certainly isn’t, one thing is clear:
This Maass guy is a JERK.
He personally sounds like one to avoid, with calling authors a herd of cattle.
February 9, 2014 @ 3:39 pm
Robert L. Slater (@RobertLSlater)
February 9, 2014 @ 4:13 pm
Thanks for your comments and double praise for noting Tobias Buckell and Chuck Wendig. I’d add Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith as two other people to listen to.
February 9, 2014 @ 4:22 pm
I wonder if you asked libraries, or had another friend, ask if there is a reason WHY they they didn’t invite small press authors? The library near me is really small and isn’t even open 7 days a week, and if they can only afford a handful of authors, they may want to spread out their authors among multiple genres as they want author events to draw in new people because they are ‘names.’ If they’ve already had 15 mystery writers this year, they may not want another mystery signing. Or if they are looking for a spy thriller and your mystery a like that too they could change their mind. Timing could be an issue.
Trade shows should have a higher proportion of different sized publishers. Are you stuck with dealing with the bad feelings left by one of the faux/scam publishers in your area? It isn’t fair, but that would make all these people extra wary.
February 9, 2014 @ 4:23 pm
Thanks for a post with some perspective, Jim. I posted both articles to my feeds and asked the readers to make up their minds. I’m not taking sides. You, Mr. Wendig, and Mr. Scalzi all seem to be in the same, sensible boat on this one.
Can I buy a ticket? 😉
Still working on the WIP. Thanks for your help (@Surrey International Writers’ Conference). Loved your keynote.
February 9, 2014 @ 4:26 pm
Great post! Thanks for being a positive voice in what can sometimes be a contentious discussion.
February 9, 2014 @ 4:38 pm
You know, this all sounds awfully like the parenting wars. You only get one chance to do this, with a ‘baby’ (written or wriggling) you desperately want to do well, out there in the big scary world.
There are a LOT of experts out there telling you theirs in the one true way, and a great temptation to pick a side and then yell at everyone who chose a different way “You are doing it WRONG” as though their choice were an attack on you.
The only winning move, IMHO, is to decide what works best for you, hope it works well for baby too, and adjust where necessary if it doesn’t. And quit yelling at other parents/writers.
February 9, 2014 @ 4:56 pm
The representative at my library kindly informed me that they prefer “reputable” authors. When I pointed out my excellent reviews in both Booklist and PW, they told me that they would get back to me, and never did. I think it’s a good point about the bad feelings left by other authors, and I think that can be true in many cases, but mostly my library is run by a handful of people who’ve always done things a certain way, and aren’t really interested in changing.
I think it just comes down to tradition, mostly. Some people are afraid of change, which is why we have these issues in the first place. I think the publishing world is changing; it’s interesting, it’s exciting, and we all really need to hang together if publishing and brick and mortars are all going to survive. 🙂
February 9, 2014 @ 5:12 pm
One thing that sometimes gets lost in this discussion is that Konrath was a fairly successful writer before he made the leap to self-pub–he had an audience eager for the next books. That’s a huge advantage when diving into self-pub.
February 9, 2014 @ 5:14 pm
Thank you for posting, Jim! I actually wrote a huge blog post about this exact thing this morning, but never posted it because I couldn’t find the right tone. I really think you nailed it here, but there was one thing you didn’t mention which I feel does need to be addressed, which was Donald Maass’s tone.
I know that agents have to deal with a lot of submissions, and whenever you open yourself to submissions from the public, things get dicey. Considering how long Mr. Maass has been an agent, he’s probably seen the whole gauntlet of weird/rude/crazy/occasionally amazing a hundred times over, and that his faith in the average querier has probably worn down to nothing. That said, the tone of his post (the full original text of which can be found here: http://writerunboxed.com/2014/02/05/the-new-class-system/), including his insistence on dividing books up into class by quality of writing, is just offensive and wrong, and I feel that self published authors were right to feel angry about it. Hell, *I* felt angry after reading it, and I’m on the right side of the fence according to Mr. Maass.
With that in mind, I have to say that this is one of the few times I thought Konrath was rightfully angry. Does that excuse or make right him calling Maass and other agents evil? Absolutely not, but… OH COME ON, DONALD MAASS. One of self publishing’s big harps is that people inside the industry are always looking down on, dismissing, and rudely belittling them, and here you are, doing exactly that. So yeah, they’re mad. If that was your goal, then, bravo? I guess? But I would put this whole fracas in the EXTREMELY UNHELPFUL TO THE DIALOGUE folder and definitely not up to the quality of professionalism and respect I’ve experienced from the publishing professionals I’ve worked with.
Anyway, I just wanted to add that to the discussion for those who might not have/ don’t want to read the whole text of both posts (ain’t no one got time for that). Great summation, as always, and yet another blog post I won’t have to write because Jim Hines Did It.
Rachel Aaron/Rachel Bach
February 9, 2014 @ 5:34 pm
As usual, one size fits all doesn’t.
Tina Smith Gower
February 9, 2014 @ 6:52 pm
Thanks for this! I generally don’t like the Us vs Them mentality. There are too many issues dividing writers, why choose one more thing to “take a stance on” If something is working for people then leave it alone. The key point is respecting each other enough to let them continue on the path that works for them.
Tina Smith/Tina Gower
February 9, 2014 @ 7:04 pm
I’d love to see more interaction and more dialog, the more open the better (like Steve Zacharius of Kensington and Konrath but minus the snark and sidesteps). We are all in this together. Marketing is an issue for midlist and self-pub, and we don’t even have a level playing field yet. I chose to take the position of supporting indie, small press, and traditional and will continue to do so because I believe that’s the best way to support authors and writers and encourage them to make the choices that work best for them. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve passed it on.
February 9, 2014 @ 8:10 pm
Well said, Jim. These days there are all kinds of ways to publish–the problem for everybody is matching the readership to the book. Slamming other methods of publishing doesn’t do that–I guess it’s a way for the slammers to justify their own particular choice.
February 9, 2014 @ 10:00 pm
There is certainly no comparison between a Hitler and a Maass. “Evil” is not accurate. Unless you have a very low threshold for evil.
But to say there is no “us” versus “them” whitewashes the relationship between authors and publishers. There most certainly is an us versus them.
If this were a love fest, then publishers would not have all reduced royalty rates on ebooks in lock step fashion when ebooks went big. They would have done just the opposite.
If this were a love fest, then they would not insist on ridiculous non-compete clauses.
If this were a love fest, they would pay authors promptly. How many businesses allow you to pay them, not 60, 90, or 120 days late, but 182 to 273 days late? Do you pay the grocer more than half a year late?
I could go on.
This doesn’t mean publishers are evil. It means they are in business. And they are using the power position they have in the brick & mortar supply chain to exploit their advantages.
They’re making offers to authors. Any offer might be good or bad depending on the author’s goals. Some of these partnerships go well. Some don’t. That’s business too.
But the minute an author starts to think publishers and authors have the same interests, that’s the minute that author sets himself or herself up to be exploited. Harlequin, Kensington anyone?
I’ve got a great ad hanging on my wall. The text: “In business, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.”
And for far too long most authors have had almost no power at the negotiation table with publishers. And publishers seemed to have had no moral compunctions taking advantage of that (see points 1-3 above). And why should they? It’s business.
Now that a new distribution channel has come along, offering something incredibly different, it’s hard not to sometimes look at the offers these other guys are making and say, really?
Indie publishing may not offer the gold brick road to success, but it’s the best thing that has happened to authors since the automobile allowed wider distribution. And for Maass to denigrate it shows he really isn’t an agent for authors (us). He’s an agent of the publishers (them).
Jim C. Hines
February 9, 2014 @ 10:19 pm
Yes, publishers are in business. As are agents. As are authors. I don’t think anyone has suggested otherwise, have they?
Nobody but you has said anything about a love fest. But I’m not interested in seeing publishers, agents, or authors who choose a different path as The Enemy, either.
Jim C. Hines
February 9, 2014 @ 10:22 pm
Oh, there are a number of things in Maass’ post that angered me, too. This isn’t the first time he’s said or done things I strongly disagreed with. I don’t have any problem at all with writers being angry about what Maass wrote there. My problem is with using Maass to fan the flames of that whole Us vs. Them crusade.
February 9, 2014 @ 10:23 pm
Right on, Brother! As a reader, I don’t care what form the book takes, as long as it’s good.
Jim C. Hines
February 9, 2014 @ 10:23 pm
Of course! The Sensible Boat has the best buffet, plus a laser tag course below deck.
And thank you 🙂
February 10, 2014 @ 12:25 am
I’m not taking issue with the idea that we authors shouldn’t view publishers as The Evil Enemy.
I’m taking issue with the broad statement that us versus them is crap. Maybe I read your statement too broadly. My point is that many publishers have exploited their advantages in the system. Often to the detriment of the interests of writers. And it isn’t just some individuals here or there.
When all of the publishers change ebook royalties in lock step, we’re not talking about a few bad actors.
When all of the major publishers pay six to nine months late, we’re not talking about a mean accounts payable clerk.
When Penguin Random House sets up something like Author Solutions, we’re not talking about a couple of shysters buried in the organization somewhere.
When Harlequin and Kensington shaft writers as they have done, it’s not some lone editor gone rogue.
Publishers may not be The Evil Enemy because some can indeed be good business partners, and there are many standup folks in the system, but they have proven that they, as a group, are not our best friends forever. And when someone says there is no us versus them, it seems to me that it sweeps all of the above under the rug.
Again, I might have read you too broadly. But that’s what I was responding to.
February 10, 2014 @ 5:53 am
Well… As mentioned in the quotes in the original post, self-publishing is awesome because there is no gatekeeper, and everyone can do it! But the corollary of that is also that there is no gatekeeper, and everyone can do it, and thus there is no one that keeps out the riff-raff. *On average*, the quality of self-published, and even small press, production is less than that of quality big brands. There are certainly many small presses, and individual authors, that outshine the average big publisher. The key word there is many, though. I know what to expect, roughly, from Baen or Tor or Orbit, and even Subterranean. I’ve never even heard of Hadley Rille. I suspect the same dynamic, in varying degrees, applies to bookstore and library event planners. If they haven’t heard of your label (be it a small press publisher or an individual author), they would have to do research or god forbid even read your book to determine whether you’re any good, or at the very least read a review in a publication they trust. That wouldn’t be much of a problem if you’re the only one asking, I suspect, but, well… you probably aren’t.
A secondary factor is whether people actually will turn up for you. That’s the same problem as above, only with random readers instead of industry insiders, so compounded. A book club with regular attendance can do unknown names that are not known names per se better than libraries or bookstores that need to attract a completely new crowd every time.
Jim C. Hines
February 10, 2014 @ 8:16 am
I’d agree that if you go into this with the idea that publishers/editors/agents are going to be your best friend, you’re in trouble.
I love my editor. I stayed at her house when I was visiting New York last year. She’s a great human being. But she also works for a company whose job is to make money. Likewise, my primary goal and focus has to be my career, not supporting my publisher. (I’m happy to support DAW, but my own career has to come first.)
February 10, 2014 @ 9:04 am
I also get extremely weary of the constant back and forth sniping. Full disclosure: Don Maass used be my agent. (There is no Great Dramah to that fact, it’s just a fact, and there are no hard feelings or anything. I just found someone who shared my vision more clearly, and it worked well for us both.)
The problem in traditional publishing, as I see it, is the great difficulty in convincing publishers to see us as creative full partners. BUT, the other flip of that coin is that so many authors don’t see themselves as businesspeople, so it’s obviously difficult to establish a solid relationship on that basis.
You know where I find people who are engaged and informed about those the marketing, promotion and business of writing? Yep: self-publishing. There are fascinating forums and loops full of people who have done hard research on what works, what does, when to do it and what service to use when you do. I have been blown away by the work that many of the serious self-pub authors do. MUCH better data than I can ever get from publishers.
I snorted coffee through my nose when I read Don’s original post, because I started out in his “Coach Class”, and he knows it. My first novels were definitely lower midlist, with all the dead-end job mentality that entails. I worked my ass off to get to upper midlist, and then to (in Don’s words) the First Class cabin over the course of almost 20 years … not that I will get to keep that comfy seat. It’s more like I got upgrade coupons, and it’s back to the scrum for the open seats next time around.
Today’s first class cabin passengers will almost certainly be crammed into the uncomfortable spot by the toilets at some point. As a professional author, I’d be stupid to assume that having success means MORE automatic success. Those laurels you can allegedly rest on will wither fast if you’re getting your ass off them and working a plan.
Don said writing is a meritocracy, but I actually don’t agree with that — monster bestsellers often aren’t the best artistic or technically written works. They are the books that appeal to some hidden zeitgeist nobody else managed to touch, that’s all. I’d say honestly that a lot of runaway hits (NOT all) were written at what he would consider a “coach class” level … yet they’ve got a hell of a lot more folding money than any of us will ever see. Writing is crazy that way. You can’t call it a meritocracy. It’s much more chaotic than that. AND THAT’S GOOD. That means we’ve all got a shot at it.
All we can do is write the best we can, and do what works for us. I think most of us will end up as hybrid authors, quite honestly — the catch is to make that new model work for us in a productive and creative way.
Thanks for posting this, Jim. As always, you are awesome. I’ll be happy to sit next to you in church any time.
February 10, 2014 @ 9:27 am
Laser tag! Yay!
February 10, 2014 @ 11:22 am
He’s also one of the biggest name agents out there representing some big name authors. (Though out of his agency I’d prefer Jennifer Jackson in pretty much any circumstance) and has written one of the most useful how-to-write books about the next level *after* you’ve graduated from all the millions of writing 101 books. He does workshops and is actually mostly quite helpful to and supportive of writers.
This doesn’t make the cattle comment any less of a … shall we be nice and say unfortunate metaphor? Nah, let’s be honest. It was a jerk thing to say. But it gives perspective why people do give him the time of day.
February 10, 2014 @ 11:25 am
Rusch and her partner have, if you’ll pardon me, drunk a bit too strongly from the “Traditional publishers are evil and agents are worse” side to really count as a moderate voice.
She has some EXCELLENT resources for how to look at your contracts for nasty traps, though, for which alone she is worth reading.
February 10, 2014 @ 11:35 am
I get the impression small but actual presses had a better rep at least with some bookstores etc. before the indie publishing began to boom. Now there seems to be an assumption that a small press publisher is a self publisher who thought of putting a brand on the spine of their book. The existence of actual editors and cover artists and the like gets lost. I feel like I’ve seen less small press show up at my favourite independant bookstore now than I did 10 years ago. I could be wrong, and just not seeing the titles I know to look for.
Which I think is a pity.
February 10, 2014 @ 1:19 pm
Where’s the us vs. them argument, Jim? Maass was dividing authors into classes and disparaging them. I just said this in my recent post with Barry, fisking Gottlieb:
“This isn’t an us vs. them debate. It’s a way for everyone to become more informed about the changes happening within the industry, and how we can all benefit from them.”
You quoted me above about gatekeepers sporting bullshit. Every gatekeeper I’ve fisked has sported bullshit, and I fisked Maass because he was doing so. Cherry picking that quote of mine is not representative of my stance. If you follow my blog, I’ve never said self-publishing was anything more than a preferable choice for writers, but I’ve never said it was the only way. In order to help writers make an educated choice, I point out the bullshit said by legacy gatekeepers, and I point out the importance of hard work and luck. I’ve said there are good gatekeepers (my agent is one of them) and I’ve said legacy can work for some people, but they should go into their contract understanding it fully.
I’ve never espoused us vs. them, yet you’re using me as an example of one who has. In this specific post there was no need for me to take a broader view. I was dismantling his specific points and arguments to reveal them as bullshit, not writing a blog about the path writers should take.
As for evil, I believe amoralism is evil. Show me a shred of morality in Maass’s post. Is he on the side of the writers he represents? Or is he dismissive, disparaging, and outright clueless about what writers want and need? I could make a good argument for evil here, without evoking the hyperbolic Godwin’s Law, as you have.
Show me an example of me, or any self-pubbed or hybrid writer, with an “us vs. them” attitude.
The problem with picking select quotes is that taking things out of context often misses the point of the piece as a whole. If you’d like to make a case for me being a segregationist, fisk me. Take my whole piece, and point out, line by line, how I’m promoting “us vs. them.”
If you believe there is a prevailing us vs. them attitude, provide examples. If you don’t believe self-pubbing is the asteroid that will wipe out the dinosaurs, argue that point.
You said “When I see a self-published author repeatedly spamming people online and desperately shoving self-promotional material into people’s hands at conventions, all to promote a book with a cover that looks like it was done in MS Paint, a part of me wants to cling to that as proof that I’m better off with my publisher.”
What an odd thing to say. When I see Maass spouting nonsense, I fear he IS indicative of the legacy industry’s attitude, as evidenced by their actions (windowing, agency model collusion, unconscionable contracts, denial). When I see some self-publisher screwing up, I don’t see that as representative of the majority. Actually, you’re the one endorsing either/or here. A poor self-pubbed ebook cover shouldn’t mean you’re better off with your legacy publisher. It should mean “maybe I should make sure my self pubbed covers are better.”
You say some very astute and thought provoking things on this blog, Jim. But please don’t misrepresent my stance.
Writers finally have choices. I believe one choice is superior to the other, and that one of them is potentially harmful. Poor royalties, non competes, term of copyright, high prices–I regularly argue that these aren’t good for writers. But I also repeatedly state that writers should have goals, and that everyone’s path is different, and that we all need to experiment and learn as much as possible. I also say that no one should listen to the so-called experts, me included, without considering all options.
If you believe I’m incorrect, fisk me. Or send me a few questions which I’ll happily answer.
February 10, 2014 @ 1:44 pm
I agree it’s not realistically and Us-v-Them issue among writers (though it’s regularly framed that way), precisely because so =many= writers are writing for a traditional publisher -and- self-publishing. There’s a widespread internet assumption that writers choose One OR The Other. But the reality is that an enormous number of writers are doing both–and choose to spend their limited internet time promoting their work rather than promoting their business decisions, so their business models are usually overlooked in the “trad-v-indie” internet debate.
Also, a complex individualistic business path tailored separately by each writer for herself based on her own individual needs, preferences, opportunities, and goals is a lot harder to turn into the fodder of internet posturing or sniping.
An additional aspect of this, though, is that the people who’ve been publicly advocating the relevance/importance of traditional publishing–whether they do so on blogs, in interviews, by debating Joe Konrath, by arguing with the DoJ, or by appearing in federal court–keep doing such a poor job of speaking for the industry. I talk privately each year with a number of smart people in the publishing world, so I know that such people do exist in the industry. But in public, I mostly see people advocating for the traditional publishing world who come across as mired in 20th thinking about publishing and selling books, ignorant of the self-publishing world, making sweeping assertions which they can’t support, making the mistaken assumption that the writer’s best interests are identical to the publisher’s best interests, clearly unaware of how many traditionally-published writers (including bestsellers) are engaging in self-publishing (and comparing the experiences and numbers with their under-contract books), and/or contemptuous of writers and dismissive of readers. The people I’ve seen attempting to publicly advocate for (or defend) the traditional industry too-consistently seem silly, unprofessional, poorly informed, inarticulate, unbusinesslike, and/or annoying. They inadverently self-present as part of the problem–what’s holding back the industry, why many people think traditional publishing won’t survive–rather than as part of the solution for an industry struggling with the effects of disruptive technologies.
February 10, 2014 @ 2:05 pm
I think the best thing self publishing did was giving authors options. The more options we have, the more informed choices we can make.
And I have no doubt that if self publishing were the only choice then the people we use as distributors (amazon, smashwords, etc) would then have all the power, and would be insentivised to start lowering royalties, and taking more rights too. It’s better to have them both so we can chose what’s best for us.
Jim C. Hines
February 10, 2014 @ 2:32 pm
“The gatekeepers spouting bullshit vs. the new breed of writers calling them on their bullshit.”
“Your industry fucked the majority of writers it provided services for.” [Citation needed]
“And I’ve found that self-publishing gives me the opportunity to make more money than I ever did within the gatekeeping system. And I’m not the only one who knows this.” [I’m very curious about the second sentence here. Are you saying you’re not the only one who knows that J. A. Konrath is making more money now? Because then I’d agree with you. But to me, this reads like you’re suggesting other authors are ‘seeing the Truth’ and abandoning the “gatekeeping system” with you.]
“…publishers screwed the writers.”
“We talk to each other. We read each others’ contracts. We know how much we can earn on our own. And more and more of us believe the publishers you work for are, indeed, evil fucks.” [Who exactly are the “us” you’re speaking for, here?]
Heck, even the terminology “legacy industry” and “legacy publisher.” What does that even mean?
As I’ve noted, a lot of what Maass wrote strikes me as pretty messed-up, too. But From where I’m sitting, I guess I don’t make the automatic leap to assuming he’s indicative of the “legacy industry’s” attitude.
I’ve said before, both to you and elsewhere, that I agree with a fair amount of what you write. But I also find some of your data and conclusions to be questionable. We’ve been through this before, and I’m not that interested in going another round.
February 10, 2014 @ 2:35 pm
“If you follow my blog, I’ve never said self-publishing was anything more than a preferable choice for writers, but I’ve never said it was the only way. In order to help writers make an educated choice, I point out the bullshit said by legacy gatekeepers, and I point out the importance of hard work and luck. I’ve said there are good gatekeepers (my agent is one of them) and I’ve said legacy can work for some people, but they should go into their contract understanding it fully.”‘
In my view, as a traditionally published writer who reads Joe’s blog and occasionally comments there, that’s a fair assessment.
A couple of weeks ago on the blog, in the context of a comment I was making, I stated that I had recently signed for four more books with my traditional publisher, by choice. And Joe wrote this about my comment:
“The very fact that your commenting in this blog makes me believe that you have very good reasons for signing a new deal. Maybe I wouldn’t sign that same deal (or maybe I would), but that’s not the point.
The point is you signed that deal deliberately, as someone informed about the current state of publishing. You fully understood it. You’re self-aware, and decided it was in your best interest.
I can’t argue with that. There’s nothing to debate. And I wish you HUGE success. :)”
I am not mystified that some people dislike the tone of Joe’s blog. Yep, it’s often harsh and sarcastic. But I care more about the information I can find there than about the tone. Also–although I don’t know him at all, so I am merely guessing–I think Joe’s tone is based on genuine outrage and exasperation, rather than calculated for effect. And this is something I can certainly understand, given the subjects addressed there–such as years of bad treatment of writers (Joe and myself included) based on a business model where anyone who wanted to work as a writer had few-if-any options besides dealing with bad business models and egregious contracts.
In any case, an awful lot of inaccurate nonsense is being publicly posted to advocate for traditional publishing, and I think Konrath performs a valuable function by publicly arguing with these still-largely-unchallenged commentaries which are so full of misinformation and unfounded assertions. And I say that as someone who’s still a traditionally-publishing writer by choice, rather than an “indie all the way!” cheerleader. I think my industry is poorly-served by lies, nonsense, and empty claims, and so I am glad that someone dismantles them in public.
carmen webster buxton
February 10, 2014 @ 2:45 pm
Good sense thy name is Jim C Hines.
February 10, 2014 @ 3:05 pm
[But to me, this reads like you’re suggesting other authors are ‘seeing the Truth’ and abandoning the “gatekeeping system” with you.]
Isn’t that what you’re seeing? Do you read the thousands of comments I get from writers who are doing exactly that?
[Who exactly are the “us” you’re speaking for, here?]
I’m speaking for genre writers, Jim. Big 5 writers. Harlequin writers. Kensington writers. I went into great detail explaining the unconscionability of legacy contracts to agent David Gernert.
“Us” is all writers offered those terms. And unless you’re Lee Child or someone of his stature, those are the terms you’ll be stuck with if you sign. And those terms suck.
[Heck, even the terminology “legacy industry” and “legacy publisher.” What does that even mean?]
Ebooks are a new technology that make publishing more efficient. Paper is an old technology that is still in use for a variety of reasons, but offers no demonstrable advantage over ebooks. Ebooks cost less to produce, can be copied, can be delivered instantly, and have a much wider distribution. Barry Eisler and I have an ebook called Be The Monkey where we explained this years ago. It’s free on Barry’s website.
[I guess I don’t make the automatic leap to assuming he’s indicative of the “legacy industry’s” attitude.]
No, you made the automatic leap that I’m a proponent of “us vs. them” which I’m gently correcting you on. And I haven’t made the automatic leap that Maass is indicative of the legacy industry’s attitude. I’ve been documenting the mistakes made by the legacy industry since 2009, and have dozens of posts that show Maass’s attitude is pervasive.
If the gatekeepers began to treat authors better, I’d have no need to blog about this. But I’ve seen no evidence that they’re willing to change. Have you?
[We’ve been through this before, and I’m not that interested in going another round.]
Then be clearer in your arguments, and you won’t have to deal with me.
This isn’t a Gospel. It isn’t an ideology. It’s simply writers having options. At this moment in time, I support one option over the other. Years ago, I had the opposite view. There is no “one size fits all” and no “absolute right way” of publishing. But thanks to self-publishing, there are now choices, each with costs and benefits, which you and I seem to agree on.
February 10, 2014 @ 3:14 pm
[I think Joe’s tone is based on genuine outrage and exasperation, rather than calculated for effect]
It’s a little bit of both, Laura. 😉
The more uppity I get, the more hits my blog gets. The more hits it gets, the more people I reach with the information I’m conveying.
But I do get a little ornery when writers are called cattle, so it doesn’t take much effort for me to respond sarcastically.
That said, sarcasm is an effective tool in fisking. Gatekeepers have been feared and deified by writers for decades. Treating the nonsense they say with the disdain it deserves is a way for writers to say, “Hey, so-and-so isn’t really all high and mighty, and doesn’t seem to be as important as I thought.”
It’s the same effect as burning effigies, and that is indeed calculated on my part.
February 10, 2014 @ 3:19 pm
Yeah, I see now that my comment was naive. Let me rephrase: I assume the outrage and exasperation you display on the blog are genuine–even if the mode of expression is calculated for effect (which is not shocking, since a writer should indeed always be aware of HOW she expresses the content she’s trying to convey).
February 10, 2014 @ 3:34 pm
Barry and I have long discussion about tone. We approach it differently.
Not to put words in his mouth, but his general feeling is that he doesn’t want people reading him to focus on his tone, but instead on his arguments. It’s easier to disregard someone’s point if you don’t like them.
I agree with him, but I think a deliberate snarky tone leads to more visitors. That may mean people don’t like me (and there are a great many who don’t) and may not listen to my points based on their distaste for my tone, but overall it leads to more hits on my blog, and I believe that the overall message does reach more people.
According to Wikipedia, A revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.
We’re in the midst of a revolution. Even if the Big 5 remain standing, the power is shifting to authors.
I do my best to get that message out there, and that sometimes means being controversial so I get a bunch of people retweeting their followers to check out who I’m fisking.
Luckily there are other bloggers on the internet who share my opinions, but do so less sarcastically, so those who don’t like me can get their information elsewhere.
February 10, 2014 @ 5:04 pm
Lenora, I think “biggest name” is the problem here. He’s a big name, with big name First Class authors, and thus he thinks the rest of the writing world is livestock who he’s happy he doesn’t have to pay attention to any more. He’s openly gloating about not having to nurture mid-list writers (which, in Ye Good Olde Days, were the ones that the Big Names kept afloat so that someday they too could be Big Names).
If I parse his metaphor correctly, he even considers the Big Names to be “prize cattle”, which seems a bit… dismissive.
Look, I grew up in beef cattle country. You know what happens to those critters? They ALL exist merely to make money for other critters (ranchers). Maybe they’ll be “lucky” and get to be put to stud, though that means frozen semen and no actual ladies. Maybe they’re a dairy cow, which is a pretty sweet deal if you live with a decent farmer, but otherwise not so much. And the rest of ’em? Feedlot.
The 4H kids nurtured their cows very carefully so they’d win prizes. The prizes were important b/c the winning cows sold for more money at auction. And they did not go live on a farm upstate. They end up medium rare on plates if they’re really good, and ground up between buns if they’re mid-list or “freight class”.
I saw the grand champion giant best-ever bull once. He was, indeed, an impressive specimen of bovine. The next day, he sold for a world record amount of money. To McDonald’s.
A guy who wrangles words for a living and prides himself on only wrangling the best ones (and telling others what to do with them) ought to be able to pick a nicer metaphor.
February 10, 2014 @ 5:06 pm
But if the boat has Jim, John, and Chuck on it, isn’t it by definition Silly? I mean, I’m not buying a ticket unless I’m guaranteed their patented goofiness. I don’t play Laser Tag. Can I hear more about the buffet? 🙂
February 10, 2014 @ 5:26 pm
Unfortunate class and livestock metaphors aside, his argument failed with me when he said that writing is a meritocracy. He’s… he’s read “Fifty Shades”, right? That is NOT the best prose ever carefully crafted. And yet EL James is flying around in (actual) First Class with the booze and real food and leg room. So after that big FAIL in premise, I found it impossible to take anything else he said seriously.
I’ve downloaded the free sample of “Prince of Shadows”. My gosh, that looks awesome!
February 10, 2014 @ 6:47 pm
I actually read as much as I could stomach of his article. It’s worse than the cattle metaphor. He confuses method of distribution with quantity of sales, and both with quality of fiction. And he actively sneers at those who aren’t in his pool. Jerk is the right word. The other right words are ruder. Not thinking his metaphor through is far from the height of the issues I have.
But I think there is some useful context why people give him the time of day. It doesn’t make him any better, any more then Harlan Ellison or Orson Scott Card are any nicer people for selling huge quantities of books.
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February 10, 2014 @ 8:44 pm
[…] read Jim C Hines post today in which he states “it isn’t an us vs them thing” (regarding self […]
February 10, 2014 @ 9:06 pm
Yeah, I tend to think as authors we would like to equate craft directly to success, because craft is controllable and measurable. Success is a wild and uncontrollable lottery. They *can* go together, but often the best craftspeople don’t draw a major audience. Craft does not have to equal storytelling, either. Storytelling is a pure, visceral sensation for the reader that can carry them right past any deficiencies in the craft of the writing. And often, storytelling is what tips it over into a whole different sales category.
Thanks for taking a look at Prince of Shadows! Let me know what you think. 🙂
February 10, 2014 @ 10:27 pm
You’re conflating e-book technology and indie publishing as if they were in fact identical. Please don’t, and I say this as one with an e-book out. First, it continues the impression that all e-books are indie works, when the big name publishers are in fact all over e-books and you’ve made arguments against how they handle e-books. Second, it conflates all paper books as made by actual publisher, in fact, even by “The Big 5”. Neither of these actually helps the case for indie writers.
E-book technology has helped make indie publishing a genuine power and a viable option, but there are still indie writers – not victims of vanity presses – who also list on places like Lulu out of respect for the small but definite market sales they can get from paper book readers. (Of which they would have more if they could make it into bookstores, but eschewing paper and its fans is not necessarily the best way for an indie writer to work.)
Also: Paper has no advantages? Depends what you’re writing/publishing. Depends also on how much you assume eager readers can afford an e-reader, or in some cases *want* one. But this is obviously a different argument from indie versus legacy. Thus, I ask you, don’t conflate.
February 10, 2014 @ 11:31 pm
Hi Mr. Hines,
First, I wanted to say thanks for your recent posts regarding your income. It was a big wake-up call to me about the kind of money I may be able earn as a writer and how it’s still doable if you have another job to go along with it. As for this post, I had read Mr. Konrath’s rebuttal through Dean Wesley Smith’s blog and it did not endear him to me at all. He comes off as though the publishing industry has screwed him over and now he’s just railing against them, trying to get everyone on to their side. Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch do the same thing. It really turns me off. I have no problem with self-publishing, but its not the say all be all end all, and these indie authors need to start understanding that. I really appreciate you examining this middle ground and look forward to more posts in the future.
Best of luck with your next book,
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February 11, 2014 @ 9:20 am
As a writer and a mother, I have to say Heather nailed it. I am as passionate about traditional publishing as I am about breastfeeding. And yet, for medical reasons I switched to formula with my second after a few months. You have to look at your own individual situation and be realistic. But here’s the kicker – you have to understand that formula isn’t a compromise for some people. For some it was their first choice.
All my life I’ve dreamed of having an agent and a big-publisher stamp, the way some people dream about walking down the red carpet. I’m passionate about it, and no other version of success would have made me happy. It’s tempting, as it is with my parenting choices, to assume that anyone who takes a different path is compromising, giving up. But the truth is, those who self-publish aren’t giving up on my dream, they’re pursuing their own.
Everyone wants to be an author for different reasons, and everyone takes pleasure in different parts of it. For me, fighting my way to the attention of the “gatekeepers” and jumping through their hoops was always a perverse source of personal satisfaction. I know it sounds weird, and I can’t fully explain it, but to me it was like a game. I loved learning and mastering the rules, and when I “won” the game I was elated.
But as with parenting, I wish more people would respect others’ right to do what feels right to them, without imposing our own values and ideas as empirically correct. If I don’t care how much money someone else is making off my book, why should you try to make me care? If you don’t care about brick-and-mortar shelf space, why should I try to make you care? Let’s each raise our babies the way we want, since we’re the ones who have to live with them.
Jim C. Hines
February 11, 2014 @ 10:08 am
Well, there *are* authors who have gotten badly screwed by publishers/agents/etc, and I can definitely understand how that would create bitterness and mistrust. And Konrath, Smith, and Rusch often raise some good arguments. I don’t always agree with them, and I think Konrath in particular tends to get carried away with the chest-thumping, but traditional publishing definitely has its share of issues.
I think there are a lot of indie and trad. and hybrid authors who recognize that. But they aren’t always the loudest voices, or the ones getting the most attention, if that makes sense…
February 11, 2014 @ 2:59 pm
Isn’t it usually the person with the most extreme view who is usually the loudest? Because he’s right, right? And he knows he’s right, and nothing you can say will change his mind.
Not to say those authors in particular are extremists. Just a general observation.
Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little
February 11, 2014 @ 6:10 pm
A million times this.
Look, I have a very selfish reason for wanting to be “traditionally” published – because I am utterly uninterested in doing any other job but writing. I do not want to be my own publisher. I do not want to do marketing and distribution. There are only so many hours in a day!
I have a very selfish reason for preferring the “gatekeeper” model while my reader hat is on, too. Someone in the comments of Maas’s article* said, “now we have the only gatekeeper who counts–THE READER.” As a consumer of fiction, that sentence gives me the hives. I don’t wanna be a gatekeeper! I don’t have the time. It is a huge relief to me that the books on the shelf of the store generally went through multiple pairs of eyes, the owners of which all staked in part their livelihood on the assertion that “This is good. Or at least salable, and sufficiently upholds the reputation of the publishing house.” Then I get to choose which of those work for me. I do not want to add another step to my book-buying process called “slush reader”–if I develop a yen to do that (and I might!), I’d prefer to go volunteer for any of the pro and semi-pro markets who are looking for volunteer slush-readers.
This means I am probably not going to be reading a lot of self-published fiction unless it’s specifically recommended to me by friends who know what I like. Or unless I know the author, in which case I probably already have a good idea of whether I like the stuff their publishing.
So right there I have to know that my personal preference for the gatekeeper agent-and-publisher model for me is ONLY for me. Obviously there are a great many readers who read self-published fiction; otherwise the authors I personally know who are self-publishing would not be enjoying the levels of success they are enjoying.
And I love that the technological innovations of our day allow them to do that without an untenable up-front cost to their business model.
Maybe one day I will decide I do have time to venture into that arena. For now, I’m pursuing the gatekeeper model.
And I’m avoiding like hell these kinds of traditional vs. indie wars in which horrible things are said about writers AND publishers. For crying out loud, people–!
*Donald Maas’s blog post is three clicks away. Jim, would you consider providing a link directly to it, rather than (or addition to) the DWS link that goes to the Konrath fisk and then FINALLY
Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little
February 11, 2014 @ 6:12 pm
(inadvertant tab-enter typo is inadvertant!)
…which then FINALLY links to the Maas blog post?
If I missed where you did indeed include a direct link, please ignore this plea and forgive my overlooking of the obvious. :-/
February 11, 2014 @ 6:17 pm
I am parsing my bank account to see if I can squeeze out the dosh after only the 13 pages of the sample, is what I think!
If not, I’ll see if my library has or can get it. When I can’t afford a book, I ask the library to buy it if they can. I was thus the proud first reader of a FOAF’s picture book, though I don’t spend any time with children. I found it delightful and a worthy use for my tax money.
Jim C. Hines
February 11, 2014 @ 6:35 pm
Fixed, thank you. That link to DWS was *supposed* to be a link to Maass’ post. I screwed that up in writing/revising the post, I think. Should work now.
February 11, 2014 @ 7:37 pm
This is the third blog post on this topic that I have read today. I have been struck by the lack of attention paid to the topic of what’s best for readers, in the blogs themselves and in the comments. I realize that the main subject is the relationship between writers and publishing and, specifically, the merits of gate-keeping versus self-publishing. In any discussion of an industry, however, it is wise to consider the needs of the customers: in this case, readers. I am a so far unsuccessful writer but a highly accomplished reader, and I am still trying to figure out how I can reliably determine whether a self-published work is worth reading. It sometimes takes more time to slog through reviews and free samples than to read the whole work! And still I too often find self-published works to be difficult to read (not as in challenging but as in annoying). When I purchase a “gate kept” novel, I have no guarantee that I will enjoy it, but at least I know it will not be grammatically incorrect or painfully awkward.
Jim Hines - The Gospels of Publishing
February 11, 2014 @ 7:44 pm
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February 16, 2014 @ 7:28 pm
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Michael J Sullivan
February 17, 2014 @ 1:29 am
A very good post, and I agree 100%. There is no right or wrong way, just a path that best suits one a particular person…and what you choose today might be different come several years down the line. The important thing is to stay educated and open-minded and be agile. Personally, I think if possible everyone should attempt to do the “hybrid thing.” Diversity is a good thing…in society, in investment portfolios and in your writing career. Once you have experienced both sides, you can better judge which way to go in the future. My only other recommendation is that for those that do chose to self-publish to elevate your books to the level of those being put out by New York. You can hire the same freelancers that publishers use for editing and cover design. If you put out a product that is indistinguishable from “the real publishers” then you really have something. After all, your readers deserve nothing less.
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