The Anti-NY Playbook (Bashing Commercial Publishing)
I asked on Twitter a while back why, if e-publishing is so successful, so many self-published e-authors are still promoting themselves by bashing commercial publishing. Instead of, you know, promoting their writing.
To be clear, I’m not saying that all self-published authors do this. But there are a number whose public personas spend most of their time going on about how awful commercial publishing is. And I finally figured out why their rhetoric bugs me so much.
It’s because this is the same stuff I’ve been hearing for years … only a decade ago, it was coming almost entirely from scammers and vanity presses.
Take the author who cited Snooki’s book as proof that commercial publishing is imploding. New York is only interested in celebrity trash! There’s no room for the truly original, so your best bet is to sign with Publish America e-publish your own work. (See First Book Friday for a list of non-celebrity authors who sold their books to major publishers in recent years.)
Another e-published author criticized commercial publishing for being too slow. Why wait two years for your book to come out when Publish America can release it within a week of signing the contract you could self-publish through Amazon and start earning 70% Kindle royalties within 90 days? (Assuming you don’t care about things like editing, good cover art, pre-publication publicity, and so on.)
But commercial publishers want to rip you off! Look at these e-published authors who are selling like crazy, getting 70% royalties and making tens of thousands of dollars every month. It reminds me of the way Paolini used to be “proof” that self-publishing was the way to go. By the same logic, don’t Rowling and Meyer prove that commercial publishing is the best choice? Because that way you can become a bajillionaire like them, right? (Paraphrase: Don’t use outliers to make your arguments.)
Whether it’s the old-school scammers or the new indie author with a grudge, we all know the real enemies are the evil, greedy, clueless editors and agents. The people who are only in it for the money and wouldn’t know a good story if it hugged their face and planted a book that burst out of their chest a few days later.
The only problem being that this is bullshit. Most editors love the field, and love discovering new writers and new stories. The agents love signing new authors and watching their careers take off. These are jobs that eat up a hell of a lot more than 40 hours a week, and if you’re just in it for the money, then you learn pretty quickly that you chose poorly.
Are there bad editors and agents? Of course … just like there are lousy [insert any other career here]. What’s your point?
I’m not against e-publishing. (Heck, I’m about 90% ready to e-publish Goblin Tales.) I know not all e-published authors are taking this approach to self-promotion and publicity. But to those who are, well, when so much of your playbook seems to have been swiped from Publish America and their ilk, I hope you’ll understand why I look elsewhere for worthwhile information and conversation.
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February 14, 2011 @ 10:41 am
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February 14, 2011 @ 11:18 am
I know exactly what you’re talking about here. I am all for e-publishing/self-publishing. I think for certain authors, with certain audiences or niches or platforms, it can be incredibly profitable. More so than traditional, perhaps. But yes, it seems like there is a great degree of self-pubbed authors banding together to make themselves feel better, or validate their choice, by degrading traditional/commercial publishing and all those involved. For some e-pubbed authors out there, their vitriolic stances and constant negativity have, in fact, made me lose any respect I had for them–and I sure won’t be reading their work because of my distaste for the source. No, it’s not every one of them, for sure. But it seems to be an increasingly common attitude that self-publishing is somehow morally superior, and that those who pursue traditional publishing aren’t smart/savvy enough to handle things on their own, etc.
February 14, 2011 @ 11:31 am
As one of those “evil, greedy, clueless editors”… thank you. 🙂 I feel like I’ve been debating self-publishing with people for awhile, and many self-pubbed authors don’t really seem to understand why there’s a problem.
Jim C. Hines
February 14, 2011 @ 11:35 am
We know about your secret editor parties where you all get together to drink fermented author tears!
Yeah … in some respects, publishing has changed tremendously in recent years, and is continuing to do so. On the other hand, I’ve been having this same discussion and arguing with these same myths for more than a decade now.
Jim C. Hines
February 14, 2011 @ 11:38 am
To be fair, I’ve seen commercially published authors issue sweeping condemnation of self-published or e-published authors too, which is also annoying. But I don’t see that anywhere near as often.
February 14, 2011 @ 11:42 am
Oh, absolutely. There are people on both sides, pitching bales of burning tar at the other. I also recognize that self-publishing is struggling to emerge from the negative stigma it has been stuck with for decades, and so some folks who choose that route feel they must be hyper-pro-epub in order to stake the claim that, “No, we really are professional.”
February 14, 2011 @ 11:55 am
I agree with you, Jim. I’m a veteran of the early days of ebooks. Getting hung up on format or royalty rates obscures the real question, which is what gives the reader the best experience. For some with particular or exotic tastes, the new ebook world is a godsend. It’s easier to find your niche in a world of downloads. But the old paradigm of an author, editor, publisher (and sometimes agent and/or PR person) working together on a book from manuscript to packaging still gives the reader the best chance of finding and enjoying a work. Just in the last year I’ve found half a dozen books I really enjoyed that didn’t get featured on the sites and blogs, they had a title and cover that appealed and I sat down in a bookstore cafe and tried a chapter.
If I thought I had something that would only appeal to a small slice of my readers, I too would consider putting it out myself.
Okay, 1% of writers are so brilliant they don’t need an editor. Another 1% are so popular, they can sell on name recognition even if there are a few potholes in the ms. Maybe another 2-3% have a talented team of friends who can do all of the above. For the rest of us, the traditional pipeline still produces the best book.
February 14, 2011 @ 12:45 pm
Huh, good call. Makes sense, though: presumably, a lot of people turning to self-publication have (rightly or wrongly) been repeatedly turned down by agents and editors, and now they have a more legitimate outlet for their frustration.
But the thing is, it’s not like big New York publishing and indie self-publishing are enemies. HarperCollins is not the Sauron to some guy’s indie novel hobbit troop. Tying all indie publishing to a reactionary position like this just makes it easier to dismiss the entire medium as the work of crazy people who aren’t worth reading.
I’d think it’d be more effective to play down the difference between the two methods of publishing: after all, a good book is a good book, no matter who produced its release into the wild.
Perspectives on traditional and self-publishing :Write Strong
February 14, 2011 @ 1:32 pm
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Jim C. Hines
February 14, 2011 @ 3:10 pm
I do think the royalty rate is worth thinking about. 70% of cover price is pretty darn cool … but if I only sell a hundred e-books by self-publishing vs. 10,000 through a commercial publisher, then 70% vs. 8% isn’t necessarily a good deal anymore.
I’m hoping to play around with e-publishing a bit more, and I’ll definitely consider putting my books out that way once they go out of print, but for now I’m happy to continue sending my new stuff to DAW.
February 14, 2011 @ 11:27 pm
Paolini’s parents owned a small press which had established relationships with book vendors, so it was a little different. Even so, he and his family worked their butts off promoting the book to schools, libraries, and booksellers. They sold 10,000 print copies, which is an incredibly great number for a self-published book and helped get him the big book deal with a major publisher, but on its own, it’s not a huge number.
Self-publishing is a viable, even vital option. But there seems to be a number of things that have caused this attitude among a lot of self-publishers who simply don’t know much about selling books. One is the vanity presses that offered e-book services with the same arguments they did in print — the big pubs are all meanies who will never take you. Second, I have to say that the smaller, independent presses contributed to it by claiming that the big publishers missed all the good stuff because they don’t care about books and it was their job to catch the real quality. And third was Amazon which deliberately tried to paint large publishers as rip off artists hurting authors in their contract negotiations over e-books and the Kindle. There was a lot of media coverage of that situation and a lot of it was that the future was no publishers, every author doing their own work, distribution, formatting, promoting, etc., and that this will be part of the wonderful coming electronic utopia. A contributing factor are authors who self-publish but also publish with large presses which has given them an in with booksellers, and a large platform and audience fueling their self-publishing success, but who pretend as if this is irrelevant or a bad thing. And finally, there’s simply the idea that publishers and agents really don’t do anything, but instead are just leeches taking away from the big money out there — big money that doesn’t actually exist if you know the size of the book publishing market and particularly the developing e-book market, but since so many think book publishing is just like Hollywood, and you do have the mega success of Rowling, they’re sure that publishers are putting up obstacles in front of the pot of gold.
Anyone who is spending their promoting time talking about publishers instead of their own books is really not clear on the book selling concept, though.
February 20, 2011 @ 11:21 am
Heya. fine blog, would you want to share hyperlinks?