Self-Publishing: A Rant and a Q4U
This week another major publisher, Harlequin, announced their entry into the self-publishing business. The blogs have lit up over it and there’s a lot of interesting reading out there. I think Victoria Strauss gave a great overview on the Writer Beware blog (here.)
I have to admit that the idea of all these major publishers opening self-pub arms is making me nervous. It makes me worry about the future of publishing, much more than other issues like e-books, the decline of reading, etc. And here’s why.
The lure and the prestige of getting a book published has always been based on… what? Exclusivity. It’s exciting to get a book deal because many want one, and few can get one.
Published books have always been respected because of the many gatekeepers they had to go through to get on that bookstore shelf. Numerous people had to agree that the book was worthy of publication. Large companies had to invest money and time. All of that added to the value of each book.
Writers had to endure rejection, and be persistent. They had to keep trying harder, improving their writing, to get to the point of being published. And they had to impress a lot of people.
With no more gatekeepers, no more exclusivity, no more requirement to actually write a good book, won’t published books lose value? If anybody can get a book published, doesn’t that diminish the perceived status of all authors?
And if we are entering this brave new world where anyone and everyone can get their book published, and the traditional industry is even going to assist and give these books the look of a regular published book, who’s looking out for the consumers?
Right now, when we walk into Barnes & Noble, at least we have the assurance that most of the books there have been through a rigorous approval process. Now it appears we will no longer have that assurance.
Many of you will say that the “approval process” is meaningless—just look at all those terrible books available! Who’s doing the “approving” anyway? Clearly they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re useless.
Well, I have news for you. If you think the published books are bad now, just wait until self-pubbing becomes the norm. Holy cow. Folks, you don’t see an agent’s daily slush pile. Sure, some of it is good. But let me tell you. At least half of it is seriously not good. As I look at all the books I say “no” to, and then realize these books could be for sale within a matter of months, I get depressed.
If you think the overall quality of literature has already declined substantially in the last, oh, forty years or so? I shudder to think how it will be ten years into a new world of self-publishing. “Literature” as we know it could be a thing of the past.
Major publishers have always been in the business of culling through the masses to find the cream of the crop. In my mind, they’ve set themselves up as gatekeepers and arbiters of literary taste. They’ve taken on that responsibility. By entering self-publishing, they’re going 180 degrees away from that. And they’re doing it for the money, because otherwise they might just go out of business altogether. (I get that part.)
I just don’t see how any of this ends up serving readers. It serves writers, yes, but at what cost? Will the work of all writers be devalued? Worse—will writers lose the motivation to become master craftsmen? If so, books will deserve to be devalued because they’ll indeed be of lower quality than ever before.
Now, I’ve always thought self-pubbing can be a terrific idea for non-fiction authors with expertise in a certain area, who are able to promote and sell their books through their speaking, media appearances, website, etc. But to raise self-publishing to the level it seems to be going, and to have it focused on fiction… sorry, I’m not excited about it.
Am I just saying all this because I’m worried about my job? Nope. I’ve done plenty of other things besides agenting in my life, and I’ll be fine no matter what happens in publishing. It’s more because I’m a reader and I love books, good books, and I’m not sure a flood of self-published books into the marketplace is going to serve me as a reader.
So what do you think? Am I totally off base? Does anything I’ve said here ring true? What are your thoughts about self-publishing becoming a much bigger business than it already is?
How might it serve you as a reader—or not?
How might it serve you as a writer—or not?
*Comments have been closed.*
P.S. I reserve the right to change my mind on anything I’ve written here. My thoughts are nowhere near settled; rather, I’m sort of thinking out loud. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from what you have to say.
[…] traditional middlemen – the agents. They’re not taking this lying down however. Here’s a post from Rachelle Gardner, who runs a well-known blog on her life as an agent and the publishing […]
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>YES YES YES! Exactly! If all books can get published – including the ones with terrible grammar and pages of plot-less nonsense – how are readers going to find the good books?
>Would anyone seriously make the following statement?
"There are too many movies already–if there are tons more movies, I won't be able to figure out what to see! I want Hollywood to continue filtering out the bad stuff so I can continue to enjoy quality films like Transformers 2 and The Love Guru!"
Is someone going to seriously argue that the publishing industry is any less crappy than Hollywood right now?
We need a bit of revolution. Of course there will be garbage produced–there has always been tons of garbage produced. But the arts in this country are adrift and barren, and I'm for absolutely anything that shakes things at the core.
>Oh no! Too many books–whatever shall we do?
>Author Solutions published 13,000 titles last year. Titles that vary in content and quality. Titles that perhaps didn’t quite fit a publisher’s existing lines. Those books already exist, but are the readers buying them?
And if not, why? (IMHO they aren’t. 2,500,000 copies were sold of 13,000 titles. That first number sounds impressive, right? But divide that down to the average number of copies sold per title = 192. Depressing.)
Those books I spoke of are no different than the products readers will receive through Harlequin Horizons. Because these are Author Solutions products, not Harlequin products. Products designed to lure in writers, not readers. (13,000 packages sold to writers at a BASE price of $599 multiplies out to $7,887,000. Cha-ching )
In a nutshell (excuse the cliche), here is a simple equation:
There will be garages full of books stacked upon books, and writers/authors will soon discover that self-publishing is NOT the solution to seeing their books in print. QUALITY will rise to the top because, quite simply, that's what readers want. My heart goes out to all the author wanna-bes.
>Despite some of the very real disadvantages of this development, I'm not shedding any tears for the passing of the "Age of the Gatekeeper". All my life, I've been tired of gatekeepers reacting to "what's hot right now", endlessly patting themselves on the back as they effectively fulfill their own prophecies.
I'd accept virtually ANY development that weakens this tendency.
Salesmen, of any stripe, can be good for any business. But when salesmen get too much power over the management decisions of their business, they inevitably start to strangle the business. I think somewhere along the line in publishing, the salesmen took control from the editors.
Yes, self-publishers will produce a lot of garbage. But as pointed out earlier, a lot of garbage is already published. I feel this isn't the fault of editors, but salesmen; salesmen who feel that the garbage will sell, or who feel it's too expensive to take the time to make a good book great. Editors who miss their status as "gatekeepers" have no one to blame but themselves, for ceding their long-term power to salesmen in exchange for short-term profit.
>Timothy Fish, thanks for your last comment, and Christine H. for yours about God telling you to write but not what His plans are for your work. I can relate.
These comments made me aware of something. I'm reading angry responses, some that are defensive, attacking, snobbish, reasoned, hopeful, disillusioned, snide, and more.
What I'm not seeing is an agreement among Christian brothers and sisters that God is sovereign and will see to it that He leads us when it comes to the business aspect just as He leads us when it comes to generating a story.
And when I say "business" I'm including our need to follow the learning curve when it comes to writing craft.
Some writers–and I know this first hand–don't know their writing should be better. The story is good and their friends rave. Even encourage them to publish. Then the rejections start coming. It's easy to think the gatekeepers have some hidden agenda, that they are wrong and the friends are right.
The thing is, we cannot know how many more people we would reach if we would slow down and take the time to learn the craft. And then partner with those who are professionals. (Few new writers realize what a collaboration a book really is.)
I guess I'm asking, How much are we praying about what God wants to do with our writing? How much are we trusting Him to do as He pleases, whether that means a new critique group, conference, online class, writing instruction book, mentoring partner, or contest feedback instead of a publishing contract?
I have seen some writers running ahead of God into the arms of subsidy presses simply because they don't want to wait.
BUT that doesn't mean every writer who uses a subsidy press is doing that. I know a couple writers who have thought, prayed, and chosen the subsidy press route. (Please don't call it "vanity." That's a slur and an assumption).
I know others who sit and wait but fret and fume as they do so. Is this a better position than the run-aheaders? I don't think so.
God is God of the impossible. He makes rivers become dry land. Is it too hard for Him to see a novelist find a publisher? And if it isn't happening on our timetable, is God wrong?
Christian writers, we are brothers and sisters doing what we do to glorify our Lord and Savior. But we sound a lot like Peter walking on the beach with Jesus and, with John in view, saying, Lord, what about him? Jesus responded by saying, essentially, Not your concern, Peter. I'll take care of him.
While I think it's good to think about the ramifications of the changes in the publishing world, in the end, shouldn't we say in one accord, Praise God; He knows what He's doing even when I can't see around the next bend.
I understand all you said; and I thank you very much. I like your thinking…we need to truly be humble. May God bless you.
>Well, I’m going to somewhat disagree with you from a reader’s perspective. I’m not someone who thinks everything in the bookstore is crap, and I realize we all have our own tastes. I just think publishers have too much power, on deciding what’s the best, what sells, and what makes the bestseller list. And yes, I know they have the data, so they know what sells so that’s how they make their decisions. But who picks which books for major distribution? Not just for book stores, but pharmacies, supermarkets, airport racks, etc…Who picks which books get the most marketing resources? Who picks books for most of the professional reviewers? So in reality their data is quite skewed. Sure, some books become wildly popular without this backing, but I’m willing to bet most best selling books are a product of publishing choices.
Now, I certainly don’t want publishing to change over to just self-publishing. And I don’t think it ever will. It doesn’t make business sense. If most people can’t make money…what’s the point? However, I think technology more than self-publishing is going to change the world of publishing for the better, and I do think a form of self-publishing via the Internet and downloads will be part of that change. And sooner than we all think, publishers will be going to places like Lulu to find their authors. And you know what? It may be messy for a while, but I think in the end, books will be better and readers will have a lot more say about which ones are the best.
Yes, you searched for hours for a good recipe. So have I. But people, generally, will NOT do that for books. A core group of dedicated readers might, but for the public at large, anything that makes reading more difficult will most likely result in less reading. A bunch of poorly or non-edited books will not add to the richness of the literary landscape or enhance the general reader's interest in reading.
Maybe in days gone by this was true, but in this computer/internet day and age, with entities like Harlequin & Thomas Bow making it relatively easy–if expensive–all it does is increase quantity. Having *more* junk around doesn't make it not junk.
And writers and readers should be aware of the implications of a market so saturated with unvetted books. The AVERAGE person won't even bother to sift through them, as they might with recipes. They barely bother reading now; how will stuffing the shelf with 1000's more increase likelihood?
(And, fwiw, when I'm looking for recipes, or searching on eBay/Craig's list places, I rarely go past page 2. I think I am fairly representative in this regard. If your self-pubbed book is on page 15, metaphorically or actually, you're outta luck.)
And, as far as richness of the literary tradition, I'm not talking about self-publishing, when someone works diligently to get their non-fiction, or even fiction, out there, b/c they believe in it. The number of people willing to work so hard to get it done, and then do the legwork of promotion, is few.
It's the stuff that Harlequin and Thomas Nelson have done (with Horizons and West Bow respectively), with no apparent care for any repercussions aside from cash, that is so disheartening. And it ISN'T self-publishing but is being CALLED self-publishing, to lend legitimacy, and that is duplicitous and misleading, and just plain mean.
The argument that some are making, that 99%of these books will fizzle and die, and never even each the eyes of the potential reader, may be true, but it doesn't take away the stain of what Harlequin and Thomas Nelson are doing. And they should be called on it.
(by the way….each time I typed "Thomas Nelson" I accidentally typed 'Thomas Bow." Already the brand dilution/confusion begins, on a purely cognitive level…)
>What some here seem to forget is that the self-pub route requires self-promotion so a title will succeed only if the author is able to market successfully. So when Anon 2:42 says "word of mouth will make 1000's of big-sellers that otherwise would have never been published", s/he is under the misconception that all writers have the ability to generate that kind of hype for their books regardless of the quality, "and that just ain't true."
>4 quick thoughts on self-pubbing:
1) It's not for me (until I get 100 rejections I will stand by that). I still think I can get my work pubbed traditionally and get it out to more people that way.
2) Most self-pubbing is for vanity purposes so someone can say to their friend over lunch or a beer, "Search for this on Amazon… yeah, I wrote that."
3)It goes back to Freedom of speech/press vs. Freedom to be heard/read… Just b/c HH has an imprint for self-pubbers doesn't mean that they will put it book shelves. It will go on a website, that won't even be the real Harlequin site.
4) My hopes: Eventually someone will be serious about self-pubbing and will find the right POD company and will start their own "publishing house" and will sell maybe 1500 copies to friends/acquaintances through his Facebook/Myspace/Blog, etc… he will know a dozen other people that also have similar quality books and equal numbers of friends and they will form editing groups and co-ops and then will start publishing better books. They will eventually have a book that goes "viral" and hits it big and gets picked up by bookstores and is a best-seller. A new publishing house is born, but it's a publishing house with author/editors where the author takes 50% of the proceeds and the rest gets distributed amongst the others. The business will change, others will follow, and we will see a stronger, more profitable industry in the end. I know, my thoughts are ridiculous.
>P.S. Jim – this whole discussion was in the context of people who send query letters to agents stating "God told me to write this book," assuming that God will then tell the agent to represent it.
I totally agree with everything you said. I think the problem comes when well-meaning Christians assume that just because they felt the Holy Spirit nudging them to write something, that also means that they are guaranteed a publishing contract. God may be encouraging them to write for many reasons, but they still have to go through the same selection process as everyone else.
As writers – and as Christians – the key is to be humble.
A pastor friend of mine told me that she realized, while hearing her eighty-something mother, a concert pianist who can no longer perform on stage, play the church piano in the sanctuary just for the sheer joy of doing so… that when we use our God-given talents we are worshipping him… even if no one else ever hears us play, or reads our books.
As John Donne wrote in his poem, "On Blindness," – "We also serve who only stand and wait."
So if we stand and wait – or in my case, "revise and wait," (eventually to be come "submit and wait") – we are doing our duty until the time when God chooses to use us in a more public way.
And if he doesn't, that's fine too. We will still hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
>It still won't sell if people don't like it. If self-pubbing was a good way to sell books, everyone would already be doing it. There's no distribution, consumer prices are higher, no physical shelf space, smaller marketing budgets.
>GOD TOLD ME:
Numerous people for various reasons loosely/wrongly say "God told me… .. …"
Many people say; God told them this/that: but their predictions DON'T come true….. That all contributes to unsaved people sometimes thinking wrong about GOD rather than the false predictors.
What I'm seeing on this blog is (just my opinion) some of the people, probably unintentionally, refering to ALMIGHTY GOD in some frivilous ways.(just my opinion)
I am positive that God tells some people to write a book, AND ALSO THAT many people who make that bold claim are doing it in a way that is not really true, although they may feel it is. If a person doesn't try to honor God above all else, I doubt God spoke to them.
Because I've seen this controversy above, I'm giving a few examples of God speaking to me. I claim it is the real thing, because for over 40 years there has been 100% accuracy; and my motives are always to obey and honor GOD.
I was witnessing to a body-builder type man about Christ, and He was laughing and mocking about our Savior's death on a cross. Suddenly, GOD TOLD ME to warn the man to repent quickly or else GOD would kill him. I begged the man to listen, I told him GOD TOLD ME He will kill you quickly. But the man continued laughing and mocking. HE SAID: he was young, healthy, and had a long life ahead. He snicked as he flexed his muscles at me. HOWEVER, within 20 minutes he dropped dead.
GOD TOLD ME:
A friend of that above-mentioned man met with me shortly after the quick death (I won't tell details) and he mocked the fact that I had actually so warned his friend. HE RAISED HIS EYEBROWS about what God had done. I told him he had raised his eyebrows at GOD…something he should not dare do. He was likewise quickly dead, at age 27.
I could tell piles of similar stories…yes: about God killing people, striking them with lightning out of clear blue sky after warning them, etc.
But the great majority of my experiences are about God guiding me in amazing ways to help people get saved who are desperately seeking salvation. The instant I mention GOD to them , they explode in tears. Their lives are changed forever.
One afternoon, GOD TOLD ME to go to a certain spot on a road about ten miles from my home. As I arrived…a ways ahead of me a car pulled off the road and went up near the woods. A man got out and went into the woods, and disappeared.
I rushed, and went there to chase after him. I got there just in time: He was going to end his life. But because GOD TOLD ME…I was there just in time to lead him to a begining of a new life in Christ.
I happen to know from experience that God does tell some people to even write a book: for God's purposes. So I happen to agree with those who are offended, that if you mention you feel God led you to write a book: that could cause you to be disregarded in a query, etc. Yet it is EASY for me to understand why agents are tired of hearing such claims continually. So I agree it wouldn't help your query…but I don't think it should cause it to be disregarded.
I humbly ask everyone to please do not act frivilously concerning GOD, and things He does (even telling some people to write books) even if WE may think them unusual, etc.
May we all live more peaceably, and strive to SERVE GOD, so that "CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING" is actually CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING. Thank you to all.
>I say, if a novice wants to self-pub, let them do what they want and find out the hard way how difficult publishing is. Less competition for agents/editors for us real writers!
>I am hoping that the growing use of self publishing services will result in a growing awarness that this does not work as well as traditional publishers.
Authors need to do research before getting into publishing. A lot of them also need to admit that they are not brilliant, and that the professional agents/editors generaly know more about the business – thus if they say that 200,000 words is too long fir a YA fantasy novel, it's probably a good idea to cut it die at least a bit instead if just running to a self publisher.
At least that's my take on it.
~ Katherine Anne
>That's a very good point, Rachelle. If I am looking at a book on Amazon, I always read the comments from other readers and look at sample pages before deciding to buy it.
>Anon 7:42: Terrific analogy. I guess some of us don't really want to have to work so hard (spend an hour clicking and scrolling, then call Mom and Aunt Sue and Helen from church) for every single book choice.
I would add that in a future of e-books, where they're mostly purchased on the web, and self-published books are mixed in with books from publishing companies: All we need is a good synopsis, the first chapter of the book available to read online, and perhaps peer reviews like they already have on most shopping sites. Then we can all happily choose our books to read. I'd be TOTALLY fine with that.
>I searched on Cooks.com a few minutes ago for a recipe for "broccoli cheese casserole" and had to choose from among 2240 recipes. Well, some of the recipes required different ingredients. Some called for cream of mushroom soup while some needed cream of chicken with some mushrooms. This one says I need to use sharp cheddar and that one says to use Cheez Whiz.
What, oh, what, am I supposed to do? Is this cooking site an official, centralized gatekeeper of a sort that has tested and tasted each and every recipe and published only the tastiest? How am I supposed to know which one to commit to? What if I go buy the cream of chicken soup and the finished casserole tastes terrible? I'm out the cost of the soup and all the other ingredients I purchasted.
Hey, I have a great idea. I'll call Mom and Aunt Sue and Helen from church. Their tastes are similar to mine. I'll find out which recipe sounds great to them or which recipe they have personally tried. Or I could decide on my own that I don't want celery in my broccoli casserole.
Scrolling down, I see there are some really unique recipes. I might be willing to try one with onions and lots of butter. I'm glad everyone has different tastes and that we can all choose what tickles our taste buds.
If anyone wants to read what I actually wrote in the past about "God Told Me To Write This," HERE are the two posts.
Bottom line: most Christians try to live their lives according to God's leading. Since I rep many Christian writers, all of them can say the same thing: "God told me to write this." So while it's a valid statement, it doesn't give anyone a leg up on anyone else; it doesn't make me sit up and say, "Now THIS is a writer I must represent!" If you're a Christian writer, it's not an advantage or an extra selling point – it's expected.
>RE: GOD TOLD ME
Okay, I have to chime in here. I am writing my book because I believe God told me to. I would very much love to NOT be a crazed, distracted, exhausted wife/mom/teacher who's trying to do a book along with everything else in life. And did I mention Cub Scouts? And Sunday School?
So, God told me to write it. As in, "I gave you this gift and I expect you to use it."
That means NOTHING about publishing. Nothing at all!
God might be telling me to do this out of obedience. It may be that my family members will enjoy it for years to come. It may be the process of writing this one will hone my skills for future works that DO get published.
But I'm trying to be obedient, and do my best not for myself, but for a higher goal. This is what separates Christian writers – Christian anything – from our secular counterparts.
And I'm sure that's what Rachelle meant, too.
>Anon 3:22: You need not worry that comments will be deleted unless they are downright rude/cruel/insulting to a specific person or group. The whole point of this conversation is to bring out the various perspectives, so deleting them would miss the point!
Steve 1:40 am: YES. Totally agree. The growth of the e-book market is going to drive this whole thing.
Sharon 1:49 am: I think your situation is different since you give your fiction away rather than charging people for it. But regarding your statement "I still have a problem with the idea that someone else needs to vet my work before the public does." I think it's very simple. The public wants SOME kind of assurance before they pay money for a product. It's the difference between shopping at a retail store, each one of which has its own standards of quality (some better than others, i.e. Walmart vs. Nordstrom) or shopping at a flea market/garage sale.
The retail store has "vetted" the products and I have a certain quality expectation when I shop there. If I shop at a garage sale, it's buyer beware.
Even when I buy used products on the web (which I've done dozens of times) I take care to shop from sellers with high approval ratings. I just need some assurance I'm not going to waste time and money on a shoddy product.
I think with this metaphor, perhaps you can understand why some people WANT the gatekeepers. It's just an extra layer of assurance.
Many people don't trust the current publishing "gatekeepers." That's fine. I don't really trust the Walmart gatekeepers either. I've learned to shop there only for certain products, but I had to learn the hard way, and I've returned many defective products to that store. As a reader, I don't want to waste time and money on even more trial and error than is already involved in choosing books I like.
Anyway, everyone looks at this differently, and that's okay. Maybe if you don't agree on the need for gatekeepers, you might at least understand why some people DO want them.
In any case, I'm fascinated by all the different angles on this topic.
>The reason people are so upset is because those 99.9% of all books that tank because they're garbage make the other 0.1% trash by association.
Imagine that you're an author with Harlequin – one who went through channels, got selected and assigned an editor, and was published through Harlequin Historicals (HH is their logo). Now, Hh is very close to that logo (close enough that The New Yorker used a Historical's cover to illustrate the Horizon line).
Someone picks up a Hh book, thinking it's a regular Harlequin novel, but there's no editing. The writing is below average. The plot makes no sense and has holes the size of a Mack truck. And, didn't that character named Susan with the blue eyes have brown ones in the first three chapters? And wasn't her name Sarah? And why is she getting out of a truck when she got into a green car?
THAT's the danger with a vanity imprint tied to a commercial publisher. All of the publisher's books become associated with the majority of what it's putting out, and if what it's putting out is the slush pile, that association isn't pretty.
Commercial publishers have a stake in putting out the best quality books they can. If they don't, their customers – the readers – don't buy their books anymore. It's in their best interests to edit them to a high standard and make sure no one is putting out work that belongs to someone else.
Vanity publishers don't care. Their customers – the writer – will pay and pay and pay for the right to use and see their own words. If they're not edited, well, mistakes happen "it's the content that counts". But they never get around to thinking that no one will read that content because it's shoddy. And vanity publishers have so little oversight that they have, on more than one occasion, printed plagiarized material.
Vanity books cost more, because there's no print run to off-set the costs. They CAN'T compete in the market with commercial books.
Most bookstore chains have policies prohibiting them from being placed on store shelves (unless it's as a "local author") because the quality is sub-par and returns aren't up to the standards of commercial presses.
If your book doesn't make the cut, then you go back and rewrite it. You don't pay someone to compliment it (which is a service offered as part of the package…). It would be like baking a cake with a Betty Crocker mix, and demanding it be showcased at the top bakery in New York beside the wedding cakes. It's not even close.
>Sharon made many good points, especially >>I still don't understand the level of anger and fear – how does my publishing a book (and having the effrontery to 'call myself an author') affect a 'real' writer? How does it devalue what that writer accomplished?<<
That echoes my never-answered question to those who want to ban same-sex marriage.
If a woman marries a woman, or a man marries a man, or a beagle marries a pencil sharpener, how does that change the relationship I've had with my opposite-sex wife since 1971?
There's much too much nastiness and intolerance in both debates. The world has changed. Get used to it.
I've been published by major and minor "traditional publishers" and am now working on my sixth self-pubbed book. I prefer self-publishing, but I don't care how other writers get their words to readers.
Michael N. Marcus
author of Become a Real Self-Publisher, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
That is good professional writing on anon 12:06. Let's see if our comments get deleted or not.
>I just read the anon 12:06. If 99.9% of the self-published books fizzle, then why all the big worry?I think the big worry is that they won't fizzle. The worry is that word of mouth and email will have them booming on Amazon and agents will quickly lose their power.
>Most writers just want to move up. If you've never placed a book, then self-pub may be the way to go to see if you can build an audience. If you've sold to small press, then maybe the next book can land an agent who will sell it to NY. If you debuted with a bIg 6 but it only sold 7500 copies, maybe you can move 25K copies this time.
Wherever you're at, your goal should simply be to keep writing and move up. If you're nowehere (i.e. unpublished, unknown writer), and you're not moving up after each book you write, then what you're doing isn't working. Either writing-wise, marketing or both.
>I agree that some writers only want the "stamp of approval" that comes with major house deals. Even if it never happens and their books go unread. Other writers will try anything to get read. Some will start small but eventually work up to the majors. There's no single path to best-sellerdom. There will only be your path.
>I people don;t like it it won't sell no matter who publishes it, THat's the bottom line.
>Terry Burns claims to be in business because he wants to help authors. He said he wants to be a matchmaker.
I have no reason to not believe him; and that's the attitude agents should have.
I don't think Mr. Burns is anon 12:06. Sometimes it's easy to be a detective, as in anon 12:06.
>Too many writers worry about "getting published" when they should be worried about selling books!
Just because you're published, even with a major house, means nothing if no one buys it.
If you can move units without a traditional publisher, then do it. But some are unhappy with the self-publishing shift simply because they feel like the game they thought was THE game is now only ONE game out of many, which I think it is.
The bottom like is if you can sell tens of thousands of books, who cares how you do it–if you're "published" or whatever you want to call it? It's about writing books and selling them to as many people as possible. If agents say No, then sell to a pub directly. If you can't do that, it might be a sign, but then you could still put it on Amazon yourself, promote online and see what happens (hopefully while writing soehting else).
But to have a single-track mind that agent-Big NY House is the only way to is like a teenage rock band deciding they won't play clubs because their iTunes EP is gonna get them a major label deal with world tour. There are other paths to take that will eventually lead to the "big-time" if a writer can build a big enough audience. If they can do it thru HH, fine. Lulu, fine, Small Press, great. Doesn't really matter how you sell books to readers, as long as you do. But if no one ever wants to buy your stuff–agent, pub, Amazon shoppers–then you know what you're selling isn't commercially viable. SOMEONE should want it if there is a market for it. But agent-NY House shouldn't be the only career path new writers try. I mean, try it, but if you can't sell your 4 unpublished novels and you still think people would love them, then why not find out?
If you can't move a few thousand copies on your own on Amazon, then it's not competitive. If you can, then write another one and try 10,000. Keep doing it until the medium-big houses realize that there is a DEMAND for your material. Then they will come to yu.
>Steve, that also is well said.
It seems to me, following the young adult market, that commercial success increasingly follows the degree that reader responses go viral in social networking media.
Self publishing and micro-publishing might turn out to succeed or fail based on whether or not the author knows where the book's likely readers live on the net.
It puzzles me, if the main-line publishing industry actually lives up to it's promotion of being effective in distributing "good" books to their optimum markets, that I haven't seen an agent web site that asks prospective cients the question: Where can we reach the readers you think would be interested in your book?
I suspect they don't because they are still looking at the market through a piece of pipe, the retail chains and book clubs. So, the question is irrelevant in that context.
But it is NOT irrelevant to the transaction of delivering the author's story or message to the people who would buy it if they knew about it.
Times change, the technology exists and someone will use it first. My bet is that it will be someone who choses to NOT ride on the dinosaur, a self publisher or micro-house.
Adapt or die, I guess.
>This topic is just like the music industry.
Once upon a time musicians sang well.
Then the music industry decided to make a few bucks with the invention of marketable, concept pop-rock. One hit wonders clogged radio waves with their synthesized music and homogenized sound.
It started with Milli Vanilli and unfortunately, it didn’t end with Ashlee Simpson.
Industry powerhouses came along and started buying up all the radio pipelines. They stopped real music because they pimped out their manufactured pop groups.
One could argue that the John Mayers are still out there. True, but those are a small few in a sea of MANY. Remember when it used to be the other way around?
I see the same end for the publishing industry.
Self-published authors are the Milli Vanillis of the literary world.
When wannabe authors realize they can begin telling people they are ‘published’ for a few easy payments of $19.95 then self-publishing will become the new cash cow. If major brands start producing marketable, author lemmings you can bet they will also advertise them (read: supply shelf space).
Sadly, the reader (who probably chose the book based on the blurb and cover art) will not realize the book is a lemon until after he/she has purchased and read the first few chapters.
By that time it will be too late; the industry will have made its money- off the author and the reader.
>Well, I hadn't planned on jumping back into this (and I had to turn off the 'notice' function after my cellphone burned out last night with all the replies to this thread!), but here goes again:
I self-publish. On the web. Hundreds of people read my fiction, in more than 30 countries. They read it for free, and I give it away gladly. I am not looking to get rich like Neil Gaiman (who might giggle at that) or J. K. Rowling. I do not want to belong to an exclusive club. I expect that if people do not like my stories, they will not read them. They may even send me a rude note telling me WHY they do not like them, or blog about me to their friends about how much I suck. Or, they may write to me and tell me they haven't stopped crying, or laughing, or thinking about what I wrote. And that is why I take the risk of writing and putting myself out there, vulnerable to public opinion.
I give it away from free, but I do not plan to buy it first. Horizon is a vanity press – absolutely true. Authors who publish with them are unlikely to make much money, if any – absolutely true. People who get sucked in to vanity presses without doing their homework may be crushed and disappointed – also true, although avoidable and really caveat emptor in my opinion. I have no trouble with any of these facts.
But I still have a problem with the idea that someone else needs to vet my work before the public does. I still have trouble with the gatekeeper concept that many here have applauded. If I publish on the web, and no one reads my work, or everyone hates my work, then surely that is a judgement worth having (even if personally painful)? I would not read Meyer's work with a gun to my head; I know people who literally live by What Would Bella Do? We may sit in different corners on this issue, but I would never dream of telling a Twilight fan s/he couldn't read the book. My children all read stuff I gagged over – the rule was if they picked up a book, we wouldn't say anything about it. Their choice.
Traditional publishing still has a role to play, but it may no longer be the dominant force it has been. Publishing on the web, publishing on cell phone (mobific), even publishing on Twitter – yes, even a full-length novel – all are possible and interesting and coming soon to a portable device near you. It's exciting – but it's just another game in town, not the only one.
I still don't understand the level of anger and fear – how does my publishing a book (and having the effrontery to 'call myself an author') affect a 'real' writer? How does it devalue what that writer accomplished? There is a punitive flavour to this that worries me – if I haven't suffered pain and humiliation for my art, it isn't real? Is there truly a measurable kind of virtue that goes along with rejection?
Colour me confused.
>There's a distinction between physical books and e-books. Physical books compete for scarce shelf space. This means the major chains like B & N would become the new "gatekeepers" and consumers would look on those shelves to find "real" books.
E-books enjoy infinite virtual shelf space, but then the problem is finding anything interesting on an infinite shelf. The new gatekeepers online will be the institutions that can say "look at this" to a large number of people and get a response. The books they validate will be the "real" books online.
>Rachelle – as an author, the "lure" of getting a book published is to have my story reach an audience. Exclusivity has nothing to do with what appeals to me about it. I don't actually know any authors who write because they want to be in an exclusive club, though I'm sure they exist.
Also, you state "Major publishers have always been in the business of culling through the masses to find the cream of the crop." I'd have to disagree. Major publishers have always been in the business of making money. Their way of doing that has been to publish the books they think have the best chance of doing that – often the cream of their crop – and, in some rare cases, books that simply "must" be published, profits be damned. Still, it's a business, as it must be.
I'd note that self publishers who don't reach a market will go out of business just like traditional publishers do, so there might still be incentive to "actually write a good book."
I also don't think major publishers are the arbiters of literary taste, the responsibility you think they've taken on. That means that readers are no part of the taste equation, doesn't it? So if no one buys a book off a list, the publisher has defined… what, exactly? Also, frankly, the celebrity picture books and novels (and inspirational stories) that I saw at the bookstore today would tell you that's publishers do more than just focus on being arbiters of literary taste, even in the fiction realm. It's a business.
I think the Harlequin situation brings up a couple issues which are getting muddled together here in a conversation about self-publishing in general. To me, the big issue is whether Harlequin is using their reputation and position of "authority" to prey upon writers in some way. That's not a good situation for anyone, and I firmly agree with you that it probably benefits no one but Harlequin.
I don't happen to think self-publishing spells the end of traditional publishing, but I also don't think it's a bad thing. Readers are smart. Quality matters. And if a book is good… honestly… do you care about how many rejections the author got or how many years they wrote or how many gatekeepers they impressed? I don't. I care that I liked the book.
Thanks for kicking off and continuing a fascinating conversation!
>It bugs me to see things like Hh listed as Self publishing – they're not. Hh is a VANITY publisher. Hh owns the rights; Hh owns the ISBN.
With true self-publishing, the author owns both, and has an actual chance of turning a profit.
Hh's scheme only profits Harlequin (and Author Solutions). Even if one of those books is a break-out hit, they have nowhere to go but Harlequin with it. Harlequin owns it, and since it's already published, the writer doesn't have the luxury of shopping it around. They have nothing to negotiate with.
The whole thing is dishonest.
>Well said, M. Hayatt. American letters was built on self publishing and a hungry readership.
Literary exclusivity, by definition limits both content and readership.
I take strong exception to Rachael's musing that marketing adds "value" to a work of art. I see many books which secured Industry deals for sale on dollar racks six months later. And other's, from small regional, or co-op houses that will be in my heart forever.
Please, "publishing industry" get the covers on everything in your slush piles and let the readers' dollars decide the value.
>Kind of like the "Scarlett Letter." Geesh.
So who is going to protect these readers from all the "bad books"? Give the readers a little credit. Maybe they can figure it out for themselves!
>Maybe self-published books could have a flag stamped on the front, like "Self-Published" printed in a red banner strip located just beneath the title? That way the reader would know.
>The situation must be dire when publishers join the competition that they once jeered at. Their backs are obviously against the financial wall, and there is no doubt that they have laid the groundwork for permanent change.
One’s placement within the industry today will determine if one thinks the changes will be for good or for bad. However, there will always be standards-keepers, and there will still be a need for the same services that are performed today. What will be most significantly impacted is how these services are employed and how the industry’s approval is awarded authors.
I foresee something like A-list and B-list author classifications just like actors are ranked within the movie industry. Many writers will still seek agent representation to make it into the big leagues where the A-list authors will have access to their publishers’ staff and resources. B-list authors will have to contract professional services (i.e. marketing, cover art, editing, advertising, etc.) if they want to compete and perhaps, one day, become an A-lister.
Industry professionals like Michael Hyatt are betting they can walk this tight rope into the future, which lends a great deal of credibility to the self-pub notions that sounded absurd only a short while ago.
I can imagine agents will be watching the B-list authors in hopes of discovering the next star. It will be very different from how it is done today….but still the same.
Of course, I have an active imagination.
>Man! I've just tried to read most everything. I do think Rachelle desreves a lots of credit and thanks for being on the side of the authors.
>James could be right. I suspect that if there were no traditional publishers then we would begin to see writers’ associations appear with some teeth that current writers’ associations don’t have. The writers’ associations I expect we would see would provide their members benefits by having a common brand, they would assist their authors with editing, they would assist with marketing and they would provide a common set of guidelines that would limit the membership and provide consistency across the books written by their membership so that when readers found one author they like they would know that they would find similar quality books from the other members of the association. But I suppose that is what Thomas Nelson and Harlequin are attempting to provide by jumping in on the self-publishing business. I’m just not sure their existing guidelines will be strict enough to be beneficial to authors.
>Horizons is just a side-business that aims to make the slushpile profitable by being able to refer all rejecitons to the for-fee self-publishing arm of the business. Then, sure, if you can self-sell 10,000 copies, Harlequin itself might choose to give you a traditional go. I think it's a smart business move for H.
For the writers, no change. If you get rejected, you can self-publish. If you sell 10,000 or so copies on your own, the bigs will look at you. Same as it ever was…
>You're looking at this from the wrong side. Authors don't demand hurdles in order to have exclusivity and give themselves bragging rights. Publisher don't set themselves up as gatekeepers.
The readers are the ones demanding both the hurdles and the gatekeepers. Readers don't want to be slush-readers. Readers want things that have been vetted. Things that have been selected. Things that have been approved. That have a mark on them that says, "Someone other than the author and his mom thinks that this is a good book."
If suddenly all the commercial publishers vanished to be replaced by nothing but pay-to-play POD, something very like today's commercial publishing would spontaneously generate, and it would get all the sales.
Why? Because what real publishing produces is what readers demand.
If readers suddenly wanted to read slush, there'd be shelves full of raw slush at B&N. Look for yourself to see if those shelves exist. They don't. Why not? Because the ordinary folks who want to read books say so.
>REF: GOD TOLD ME
Rachelle, I just went to your Wednesday Aug.12, 2009 blog and saw that you said 'even includes God.' I also went to June 17, 2008 blog, and one of them you apparently in a teasing way said God told you to write the blog.
I understand what you mean and so forth, but I also see why others could be offended.
>Hey, if you can self-pub and burn up the Amazon charts without a publisher, then why aren't you already doing it?!
The goal should be to sell lots of books, not to "get published." Granted, I realize this blog is geared toward aspiring unpublished writers, but it seems many of them just want to be able to say "talk to my agent" or "I'm repped by…" more than they care about actually selling books.
As King put it, the phrase is "best-SELLING author," not "best-writing author."
the self-pubbed writers are at a huge disadvantage because one they have gotten no advance, so they're in the hole, and 2) they can't get into physical stores, and worst of all 3) the ridiculous prices of POD books ($14.99 trade paperbacks anyone?" How much will these Horizons paperbacks cost the consumer?
>Still, there's a big difference between becoming published by selling the print rights to your book for even a small advance, say $7,500, versus paying money to get published.
yeah, it's how well it sells that really matters in the end, but as a writer, the goal lis to SELL your stuff, right? that's what traditional publishers are good for.
>Terrific post, Rachelle. There are a few self-publishing success stories, like ERAGON. But those stories are so few and far between that I think they are the exception to the rule, and that traditionally published books will remain the norm.
The thing that worries me is that new authors may choose to go the vanity press route rather than learn how to become better writers. So they will choose to pay out the nose to get their books printed, rather than work to become strong enough writers to actually be paid for their work.
>TO Rachelle Gardner
Not that it is my business, but I really do believe I too recall reading in Mr. Hyatt's blog and yours that one of the top ways to have your query disregarded is to say GOD TOLD ME TO WRITE THIS BOOK. That may be what the person meant when they said IN THE TRASH.
>but how is the average reader to know, if such "works" are shoved cheek by jowl into the distribution channels, that … one is a book deemed worthy by using a set of stringent standards…the other…by the author him/herself?
In a way, I'm laughing because the "average reader," being average, won't know the difference. Seriously. I have a dear friend who reads constantly, but can't tell the difference between a good book and a bad one. If I make a comment on how a book we both read could have been written better, she just shrugs her shoulders and says, "Well, I liked it. I don't know about all that other stuff." God bless her!
But as a discerning reader, I do two things.
1. I always look to see who the publisher is, if it's one I recognize.
2. I read not just the first page, but I also skim some of the pages in the middle, to see if the book is consistent in tone and style, or if it starts out one way and morphs halfway though into something completely different. I check several scenes for the quality of the writing – if it grabs me, and for the subject matter. Even a well-written book, if offensive or too graphic, gets put down.
I know what I like, and I think most discerning readers do, too.
I think this is one area where the capitalist system – market forces and all that – will probably work in favor of the quality books. Especially with word of mouth, as someone else said.
Again, just my uneducated opinion.
>If agents and editors aren't the gatekeepers, then the bookstores & chains will take over that role–and they won't want to crowd their shelves with inferior products or poor sellers, no matter who published what. So if someone wants to pay to have a few books to pass around to friends & relatives, then the only person who's paying the price is that writer, literally.
I do wish publishers would reward agents for finding *fresh & original* novels instead of the same old thing (e.g. vampires). Aren't agents tired of jumping on the latest not-so-new bandwagon of books? Isn't it more challenging to start/create a different trend?
>I’m not sure that any of us are qualified to say what motivates people to do what they do. Only that person and God knows. Are people who self-publish doing it for themselves? I’m sure we can argue that they are, but we can argue the same about those who hold out for traditional publication. Perhaps they are just in it for the money. The point is that it doesn’t really matter. It seems like a lot of people are trying to prove that the decision they have made is the right one by proving that the people who made the other decision are wrong. It’s like trying to prove that being single is okay by proving that being married is wrong. There isn’t a hard and fast right and wrong answer here. So some of us self-publish—that’s okay. So some of us wouldn’t touch self-publishing with a ten foot pole—that’s okay too. Each author must make his own decision about what best helps him reach his goals. None of the rest of us can say whether he made the right decision or not. We can talk about how a speaking author who sells books in the back of the room may make more money if he self-publishes a non-fiction book than if he were to go through a traditional publisher and we can talk about how self-published novels don’t sell very well, but to say that makes it right or wrong is to assume that the author’s goal is to make money. That’s very one-dimensional of us. We get onto our characters for being one-dimensional, we should be careful about being that way ourselves. Self-publishing is an option. Traditional publishing is an option. They are both good options for some people. They are both bad options for some people. But it does us no good to make our decisions about what we should do by proving another person shouldn’t have done what he did.
>How it gets published is not as important as what it does after it is published. The market decides what is "good.". if no one buys it, it doesn't really matter how "good" or "bad" it is. If people could make money from a room full of monkeys with typewriters, they would.
So the edge will continue to go to books that offer, in the case of genre fiction, dependable entertainment value. Getting it in front of people is only half the battle–they need to like it, too.
>Not that I really know anything about the publishing industry… but I think these are two separate markets.
People who self-publish are publishing for… themselves. They don't want to go through the hassle of getting past the gatekeepers, or are unable to. They may sell a few dozen books to friends and blogging partners, but it's not going to be anything like a "real" book.
And I say this without meaning any slight whatsoever to self-pubbed authors. If I can't sell my curren't WIP, I will probably self-publish it just to have something to hold in my hands after three years of hard work, and to be able to give a copy to my mom for Christmas.
But I don't buy other people's self-pubbed (unless I know them and want to support them.) I don't go browsing for self-pub on the Internet. I go to bookstores and libraries to browse, and buy books I really like and want to own a copy of.
So, I think they are pretty much two different things.
Just my uneducated opinion.
>Perhaps bloggers are the new gatekeepers? I already make all my buying decisions based on friends recc's and the opinions on a chosen few blogs.
>I'd love it if every novel written is published. The bad stuff will make the scarce good stuff that much more obvious.
>In some of the voices, I hear anger at 'traditional' publishing, and its gatekeeper function. There's also the automatic assumption that more choice = better.
At some point, though, quantity can become un-filterable. It becomes 'noise.' And we, as readers and writers, should care about that.
In the 'wave of the future' publishing, we're not talking going from 10 to 20 ketchup brands on the shelf. Imagine 4,000 different ketchup bottle on the shelf, vying for your attention. The explosion potential is exponential.
I see the concern that if there are 'gate keepers,' (agents, publishers), then who gets to say who those gatekeepers are, and what if you don't agree with their 'gate-keeping' tastes, etc? Got that.
But as a rallying cry, a "Do the opposite; Screw the Man!" mentality is a highly reactive approach. It doesn't solve the problem at all.
In fact, it has the potential to introduce new, worse problems, like bringing in mongooses (mongeese?) to solve a rat problem. You end up with a rat AND a mongoose problem. This happens all the time when people have highly reactive responses.
Some say they feel quite competent choosing good books, and would love the opportunity to select from an even larger sea of books, but that's an anecdotal experience, and not generalizable to the general public.
Some others say they want the opportunity to put their book head to head with others, which I applaud, but . . . who will notice *your* book out there when there are 40,0000 other books beside it? The line of books simply becomes too long to view. Chances are that people will tune out WAY before they get to yours.
(And in this 'brave new world' of publishing, in this long line of books, few will be vetted in any more than a marginal way, many not at all, and people have no guidance on choosing. And yes, people like some guidance. I always ask for referrals before I choose a doctor or a plumber or a tax guy. Books are no different. Publishers are like referral sources.)
I'll mention this as well: psychological research has consistently shown that an increase in quantity of choices has the effect of LOWERING people's self-reports about their sense of happiness and contentment.
Think about it: you start wondering, "What good thing am I missing out on? Is there a better ketchup brand out there, that I somehow missed on the shelf of 4000?"
People are much more likely to tune out, than wade into, a highly crowded, disorganized, un-vetted landscape of books. And since few people are reading anyhow, we really should be concerned about that.
Paradoxically, it could have the effect of NARROWING people's attention, so they focus more on the few well-known authors that they already have made a choice about. Which could result in fewer new authors get picked up, b/c people are sticking with the bestsellers they already know.
And, of course, people should remember that they can open their own publishing company at any time. The 'gatekeepers' being railed about are not legislated entities. Go ahead and become an agent or open your own publishing company. Don't just complain about the problem, become part of the solution.
>I glance at the myriad of books lining my bookshelf…so many half read..some even winners of word guild contests….boring..not worth the bucks I paid for them. Really who thought they were so well written? J.R.Rowlings was rejected a number of times as were many of the great writers in the past….I think this opens a level playing field. Now people have opportunities to put their work out for the public to decide not just a select group of people who may or may not be right in their assessment of the work. Rejections don't made you a better writer. Having a few people decide whether your work is great, good or lousy doesn't mean it is. It's just their opinion. I think this is a great move. People want the right to make their own decisions not adhering to someone deciding what's good or not for them.
>I'm a member of RWA and this morning I had over 100 message in my inbox because of this bit of madness and here is what will happen in the end, NOTHING. The deal will go ahead and we will all move on to Oprah ending her show in 2011 or something more current.
>I have written a murder mystery which has been rejected by maybe five agents and five publishing houses. This did not hurt me or cause me concern because I know publishing is a difficult business.
However, this year I was given a delightful gift of memoirs from two people that were very dear to me but had passed on. The typewritten pages are true treasures–to me. These guys weren't just my uncles, they were amazing men who lived tragic, happy,turbulent lives.
So now, after I am finished with revisions on my book, I will try and catch the eye of an agent. If I don't, I will most likely self-pulish. As a gift for my children and grandchildren…something they can perhaps treasure when I am gone.
I don't expect the book to get the notoriety of a "real published" book, but I want 'my people' to know that I am more than a mom, grandma, receptionist, pastor's wife…
>Rachelle, I just want to say THANK YOU for speaking out for authors everywhere–both those who are already published and those who hope to be–by pointing out some of the practical and ethical pitfalls in Harlequin and Thomas Nelson's new business models.
Clearly, if your main concern was for your business you would have remained silent and cozied up to Thomas Nelson for some of that referral fee money they say they'll be paying. But you stood up and spoke the truth no matter what the risk, like a modern day Ester, and I salute you for it.
Soldier on, sister. We need you, and you make Christian writers proud, which is more than I can say for Thomas Nelson.
>Whoo-eee, Rachelle, your Friday posts really do get the adrenaline flowing!
I would like to share with you some statistics give by Mr. Frank Bell in a speech given at the North Texas Christian Writers Conference. (I have not attempted to verify them.) Mr. Bell said that about 275,000 books were published last year. Those books were from about 2.75 MILLION proposals. Of the 275,000 books that were published, less than 13,000 were ever put on a shelf in a book store.
These numbers may only be representative of Christian fiction, I don't know. My points are these:
* We were never able to consider all of the books that are printed each year.
* In 2.75 MILLION proposals, good books were bound to be left in the recycle bin.
* We have always depended on word of mouth – in whatever form that takes for you.
* The probabilities for having a smashing success with a novel is not much better with a traditional publisher than it is with any other route to being published.
* Commercial success has never been a synonym for great literature.
* The changes to the publishing business are unlikely to change any of the above points.
Remember the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." These are definitely interesting times.
Who is Neil Gaiman?
>Alma, congrats on your success! But if a reader can't tell the difference between pro author and a wannabe who self-pubbed, then it's their problem.
I'll never go the self-pubbed route but as a professional writer (articles and short stories in top magazines) with an EX track record, I'm getting tired of being ignored by agents.
Yes, I've had many requests but cuz I'm not writing YA or paranormal or horror/thrillers, I'm not being picked up by any reputable agent. What do I have to do to be taken seriously and given a chance??
I'm fed up–and I'm not a newbie with stars in my eyes!
>Disclaimer – I am a published author. A professionally published author with ten books which earned me advances and then royalties from established professional publishing houses, books which have been vetted, professionally designed, edited, and distributed via proper channels.
I've been where many of those people who feel rejected by publishing companies now stand. I KNOW HOW THAT FEELS. But I have said before, and I will say it again – publishing is a privilege, not a right. Just because somebody can string three words together into a sentence doesn't mean that that sentence automatically deserves publication.
And the problem arises because people who THINK they are writing deathless prose and are being rejected because of… whatever… but certainly not because their writing is not good enough – these people want not just publication, but adulation. They want the "writer's life" that is the fabled one, the one that J K Rowling and Neil Gaiman and Stephen King lead. Please note, that's THREE NAMES, and the reason you know them is because they are so uncommon. Most of us writers lead lives on the ragged edge rather than wearing expensive jewellery at private parties every night while we aren't being flown around the world in first-class comfort by publishers kowtowing at our feet.
Here's the thing. I understand the dream – I've lived it, I'm living it now. But dreaming is often far removed from reality. There are people who might have the money to throw away on projects like getting their beloved novel "published" – but how is the average reader to know, if such "works" are shoved cheek by jowl into the distribution channels, that of the two books shelved side by side one is a book deemed worthy by using a set of stringent standards and vetted by serried ranks of professionals and the other is a book deemed worthy by simply and solely the author him/herself?
>I haven't made it through all the comments yet, but I see a few trends I want to respond to.
First, I don't think readers need protecting. If they can't tell the difference between a good book and a bad one and want to waste their money, then so be it. Maybe we need to do a better job teaching discernment rather than teaching reliance on gatekeepers.
Second, if what I read in another venue is true about the "royalties" authors will be paid for their self-published books, they are getting ripped off.
Third, the good, well-established existent self-publishing companies are most likely the ones that will suffer the biggest financial hit because of the traditional houses playing in their park.
Fourth, self-publishing is a good option, even for fiction. Publishing shouldn't be exclusive. Just like bloggers are cracking the stranglehold on public opinion of traditional media pundits, self-publishing offers a way for authors to find an audience at their own expense.
Fifth, authors who self-publish without taking the time to learn to write or who are unwilling to listen to an editor, have little chance of success.
Sixth, I think this is so much needless perturbation. The Kindle and other such electronic reading devices will make … no, already has made self-publishing possible without the use of a publishing company. My guess is, as I think Steve Laube predicted four or five years ago, all this change will make more books available while the number of "successful" books will shrink. Which actually means fewer slots than the already slim number. More exclusivity, not less. Probably fewer brick and mortar bookstores, too.
Last, word of mouth will be more important than ever if a writer is to be discovered.
>One of the things I’ve considered is that there is self-publishing and there is self-publishing. To make it clearer, perhaps we should say that there are those who self-publish and there are the self-publishing enthusiasts. The difference is about like that between the person who puts a spoiler on a Honda and the guy who goes down to the track and drag races in his GTO. Some people aren’t interest in self-publishing as much as they are interested in getting their book in print. That seems to be the people Thomas Nelson and Harlequin are catering to. Then there are the self-publishing enthusiasts. These are the weekend publishers who want to get their hands dirty with the publishing process. They may not be the experts that those experienced people in the publishing industry are, but they know how to get the job done and they’ll become the experts if you give them enough weekends.
If we ignore beginner’s luck, in any industry, the enthusiasts often produce at a level equal or exceeding that of the seasoned professionals. They’re able to because they don’t have the schedule and budget constraints the professionals do. If this hold true for self-publishing enthusiasts—there’s no reason to think it won’t—then most of the successes in self-publishing will come from the enthusiasts, but the typical self-published book will either be of poor quality or will be deep in the red.
>>>another major publisher, Harlequin, announced their entry into the self-publishing business.<<
Please don't dignify Harlequin's new venture by calling it self-publishing — it's just a vanity press.
Writers who use it are customers (or victims), not self-publishers.
A real self-publisher forms a business, owns ISBNs, hires editors and designers, chooses a printer, executes marketing and publicity plans, and does NOT buy an overpriced package from a vanity press.
It's interesting to see Michael Hyatt posting here. He's the chief exec at "Christian" publisher Thomas Nelson.
The company established a joint venture with vanity press Author Solutions, shortly before Harlequin did the same thing.
When someone tried to post criticism on Hyatt's blog (charging that Hyatt's WestBow Press lies about "free books" that are not really free, and calls its service "self-publishing" when it is really vanity publishing) that person was banned from Hyatt's blog.
Michael N. Marcus
author of Become a Real Self-Publisher, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742
>Just a quick note to Anonymous 11:43: You have badly misread my post on authors saying God led them to write their book. In the entire history of this blog, and my postings on Twitter, I've never once said that I "laugh off" ANY writers, and I would especially never say that about someone who is following God's leading to write.
"In the trash with anything that God may have led someone to do" is YOUR quote, not mine, and very badly misrepresents me and everything I stand for. Go back and read my full blog post on "God Told Me To Write This" and you'll see that you are totally off the mark. It would be nice if you would be clear on the facts before making such a misguided comment on my blog. But I think you know exactly what you're doing, and that's why you're anonymous.
I'm NOT anonymous, and proudly stand up for what I believe. I represent Christian authors and I love and respect that fact that every single one of them is following God's leading in their writing.
>Anonymous 12:06 PM,
I agree with you that we shouldn’t proclaim self-publishing the way to go on the basis of the few self-published books that have sold well; just as we shouldn’t reject traditional publishing based on the books that have failed. But by the same token, we shouldn’t simply accept traditional publishing and reject self-publishing because the percentage of successes is higher in traditional publishing. The fact is that we aren’t talking about thousands of books. Those averages are meaningless to the individual author. We’re talking about one book. Imagine if a thousand authors came to us and asked us to help them get their books published. Out of that thousand, we choose twenty and out of the twenty, two became bestsellers with royalties over one million each. That’s not bad. We’ve averaged more than $2,000 per author. But 980 authors don’t see a penny and their books aren’t in print. The individual author doesn’t know where he falls within that 1,000. Perhaps he’ll sell his book. Perhaps he is ranked 980 and might as well have been ranked last. Certainly, if that author is one of the twenty, he would be better off going the traditional route, but for most of the thousand authors self-publishing gives them more value for that one book.
>I agree, Rachelle, with your comment in this thread about the difficulty of distinguishing between self-pubbed and tradtional books on the virtual bookshelf. If I'm buying a book about, say, gardening, I want to know if it's a book by a small press or by an individual hobbyist. Sometimes I need to click a bit on Amazon to figure this out. That's why I hope bookstores will always be around. You can tell so much by actually seeing and flipping through the books (and bookstores are a better filter these days than Amazon, which lists more or less everything, no matter how bad).
>Very interesting discussion as usual. Personally as an agent I don't see myself as a gatekeeper, but much more as a matchmaker. I know editors who have publishing needs and I represent writers who have projects that will hopefully fill those needs. There are so many looking for that help that I can only work with the ones that seem to be the best match for the publishing opportunities I know exist.
Will agents cease to exist? I doubt it, but if it was no longer needed I could make the transition back to spending more time writing in a heartbeat. I do this because I want to help, not because I have to.
Like I say, good discussion. Rachael, you have a tendency to bring out and facilitate such discussions. It's why I keep an eye on your blog.
>Isn't this more of a vanity press scheme then classic, Web 2.0esq self-publishing?
Here's my take:
This is doomed. All it had going for it was the name. Now the business model isn't even worthy of calling it true self-publishing. The successful self-publishers I know (and I know a few) wouldn't even consider it as an option for self-publishing.
>One good thing that comes out of this, for the benefit of agents and publishers, is that the general public will have first-hand evidence of the disparity between the books agents and editors reject and those they accept. You won't get any more idiots like some of these Anonymous comments, who state that agents pass over "real quality" for some unspecified reason (sheer spite, maybe?). They will no longer have to take the word of the agent that a huge percentage of the slush pile is utter dreck. They'll be able to see it (read it) themselves.
>I think this was an extremely well-written and well-conceived essay. I could not agree with you more. There is so much fiction out there that is simply garbage. And people enjoy reading that stuff. I think we need to raise standards for reading instead of lowering them. By allowing people to self-publish, I think poorer quality books will be published, and standards for reading will decline.
I read a great deal of fiction, and I read theology as well. However, in recent years, I have started to read more classical fiction rather than modern literary fiction. This push to self-publishing books will only increase my reading of classical fiction.
>I'm all about power to the people and I do believe some great writing is not being published, particularly great literary fiction which is harder to sell. But…
I just bought my first self pubbed book. From a dude who vents like no tomorrow about the crap that is published today, about how he can't get a break, etc etc etc.
AND, the book sucked. Like perhaps the worst book I've ever read. And this may sound hyperbolic but I threw it in the trash because I would never have put in on my shelf lest someone pull it out and take a look.
So how to get the good writers whose work I've critiqued published but keep the actual slush off my shelf? Not sure what the answer is to that. Maybe just word of mouth. This one I bought as a show of support and to see whether he had a valid point in his rants.
But if someone posted his writing on his blog or website and it was good, and then gave a compelling description of his novel and self-pubbed it, I think I'd give it a chance.
>I'm an avid reader and a new writer. I look forward to the day when one of my books is published, but not this way. I want to struggle and learn. I want to be able to say, one day, that I'm a published author, that I went through the rigors of being accepted and put through the publishing process and came out on top in the end. If I self-publish, I can't say that. I won't say that.
I browse Harper/Collins Authonomy site occasionally and read some of the stories new authors have put up. A few are really good, but most are only good for lining the hamster cage. I would stop going to my local book chain if their shelves were crammed with these types of books. I would spend my entire time with a red pen editing the book instead of reading it.
It would also be a shame that I would have to read a bunch of junk before finding one worthy of reading. I have my favorite authors that I will buy anything they put out, but I also like to try new authors as well. Am I going to have to read the first few pages of a new book to see if it's worth spending $7 or more on?
I NEED THE GATEKEEPER!!!
>Clearly folks have strong opinions on this subject. 🙂
I don't know that I can add any words of wisdom to this debate, but I do have a question.
As writers, we're told to run from agents who say that our work isn't quite ready for prime time, but then quickly recommend an editing service to help us polish that manuscript. A little investigating turns up the fact that the agent owns all or a share of the recommended editing service and stands to profit from turning down your manuscript. This behavior is considered highly unethical, and with good reason. The opportunities to defraud unwary authors abound with an agent of this stripe.
But, from what I understand, if an author submits to one of the many Harlequin traditional publishing imprints, and the editor deems it not quite ready for prime time, that editor will then suggest/funnel/direct the author to consider their Horizons imprint? Thus standing to gain financially by turning down an author and offering them something else?
Is this true?
And if it is, is this any less a warning to authors than an agent who, in essence, does the same thing?
>Hm. Folks, I have just got to make two points.
1. The world doesn't actually owe you anything. Agents don't owe you representation, and publishers don't owe you publication. Nobody's stopping you from writing the very best book you can, but nobody owes it to you to publish anything less than the best, either.
Not even if God told you to write it.
2. Yes, there are a teeny, tiny number of highly successful books that started out as self-published books. I wish people would stop waving those around as examples, though, because for every one of them there are thousands– no, tens of thousands– of self-published books that sold a dozen copies and fizzled into obscurity, sometimes after costing their authors hundreds or thousands of dollars.
>People want to read what they want to read. Agents hinder more than help authors seeking publication. They close the gate to quickly; in fact, I read on your blog the other day that agents laugh off people who feel God led them to write their book. In the trash with anything that God may have led someone to do. Wow!!!
>Last year at about this time, I self-published a collection of short fiction. My blog readers had asked me for it and according to publishing wisdom, it had no commercial value. However, I had an audience who were ready to plunk down their money on ME.
Last September, I published a second one. Again, my readers are thrilled. So'm I; I'm making a profit. I am participating in a program where I'm able to give e-copies away to our deployed troops. I get to earn money AND give back, all with two little anthologies of short fiction that have no commercial value. Pretty slick.
You can also buy downloads of both anthologies (for about half the standard $9.99 price of an e-book) through B&N, thanks to an arrangement with Smashwords.
So self-published books ARE available at Barnes and Noble. Maybe not on the shelves, but that's okay with me. I did this for my existing readers. I've gained new ones. And now that you can take your nook on a field trip to visit the Mother Ship and walk out with my $5 books (Well, $4.98 to be precise)… Hey, that's just pennies in my pocket.
I don't know if it works at B&N, but if you go to Smashwords, you can sample The Demo Tapes before you buy them, too. It's a nice way to make an informed decision.
>I’m not convinced that it’s a good thing for traditional publishers to jump on this bandwagon. In my comments on the subject, I compared it to a movie studio deciding to sell camcorders. One of the things I wonder about is what will happen when Harlequin starts putting out a better quality physical book through their self-publishing branch than what they are producing and shipping to Wal-mart, but that has nothing to do with the needs of the reader.
What is in the best interest of the reader? I shop at Amazon.com rather than Barnes and Nobel because I know that Amazon.com will sell me almost any book that’s available, while Barnes and Nobel will actually refuse to order some books. As a reader, if I want to read a self-published book, what business is it of Barnes and Nobel or a literary agent? The options provided by the self-publishing model are a good thing for the reader. But the reader also needs a way to filter through the garbage. But that’s true no matter which publishing model we use. A half-million books were published last year and I didn’t want to read most of them. I didn’t want to read any of what Harlequin published and most of what Thomas Nelson published (sorry Mike). It doesn’t hurt me if they start publishing more books that I don’t want to read, but I do need a means to find the books I do want to read. If I have that and there is a good book is out there, it doesn’t matter whether it is self-published or traditionally published, I’ll happily order the book.
The Gatekeepers I’ve never felt this concept of agents as gatekeepers. An agent ought to facilitate access while a gatekeeper prevents access. I don’t really care for all this elitist stuff in publishing to begin with. I hate that people are seeking a traditional publisher because they want validation. I know of many writers who may never have that validation because the stuff they write doesn’t follow the publisher’s guidelines or because they aren’t really looking for traditional publication, but it would be a challenge for most traditionally published authors to write as well. If more self-publishing means fewer book snobs, I’m all for it.
>I'M AN AGENT! I'M POWERFUL! is soon to become a thing of the past in publishing.
Why shouldn't everyone be happy that it's now easier for anyone to have a shot to see if their dream might come true?
Maybe agents could help writers more, rather than mocking them so much. It has been proven they are not excellent gatekeepers. The Shack is just one example of 10,000 potentials.
>For the love–107 comments! Oy vey, how do you have time to read them all.
Since I don't have time to read them all, I risk repeating what's been said (but that's never stopped me before!).
Fundamentally, I agree with you–the gatekeepers serve a needed function.
On the other hand, this may go the way of indie music. There are more bad CDs out there than bad jokes, but somehow this system is working. And sometimes these indie artists get picked up by a major record label, once they've proved themselves.
Of course, the music industry is different than publishing (read: larger and more profitable, which is a sign of our society).
I'm not saying anything new. I guess we'll have to wait and see how it pans out.
>Rachelle, we're on a similar wavelength today. I'm actually feeling daunted and saddened by e-books and self-publishing. I put them in the same category of "the vastly changing publishing world." I have had the privilege of doing school author visits, and handing children the books they've purchased along with my personalized autograph. There are few feelings quite as wonderful. How will I accomplish that same thing as an author when there is no book? It boggles my mind, this lean toward a book-less society. Equally disturbing to me is self-publishing for all the reasons you mentioned. It took a lot of work to break through. Having done so, the climb hasn't gotten much easier. But I am willing to stick with it because I believe in my work and writing. However, you're right. If suddenly, anyone can publish a book, well, that kind of pursuit honestly feels very empty to me. I want to have that backing of an agent, a publisher. I need someone else besides me to say, "Your work is worth us spending money on." That is an exhilarating experience that will no longer happen if self-publishing takes hold. I'm concerned with you. Good things come to those who wait. It is worth the wait and tenacity — it really is!
>Great question. I think this is an exciting new era in literature, and that the move toward self-publishing, and alternate ways for authors to reach readers, is a fantastic development. I've posted my complete response on my blog.
>From what I've seen, most self-pubbed book look CHEAP. Who wants to pay for inferior quality? And I was dismayed by Nathan's blog pro-tech stance about e-books–you'd think he invented the Kindle or Nook! Frankly, reading an e-book seems too much like work, perhaps good for those in the pub industry or journalists like myself who need info fast.
But I doubt an e-book will take over the market as Nathan predicts. The e-book will be like ebay to the antiques market: yes, it'll serve a purpose and may appeal to some readers, but there's nothing like engaging all the senses to appreciate an experience fully. Instant graticification is usually over in an instant.
>Cassandra states the facts: These agent gatekeepers are stopping most great works from being published, and are allowing lots of junk thru because it can be promoted for some $'s. That is finally about to change. It takes only a few people to read a super self-pub book and start the ball rolling to best seller. The agents will no longer be able toclose the gate to them. Thank goodness.
Some say, self-publishing causes a flood of crappy books? You know what? This current system isn't the best at filtering that. Publishing houses aren't the perfect distillery of quality they want you to believe. Otherwise we wouldn't have books about, "Mommy Bear Wuvs You So So So Much" or books about "Going Rogue". Bad books get made and good books slip through the cracks too. I do believe all writers should be subject to a litmus test. But this elitist "gatekeeper" mentality has got to stop.
I feel a big problem with the idea that agents or editors are somehow the "gatekeepers". As if publishing professionals are the Knights Templar, defending the very sanctity of creative writing holding the Gates of Publishing as some noble holy crusade. I find it a very elitist statement, and unfortunately MANY agents and editors feel their jobs are this holy crusade. I understand it is your job and you take it seriously. But I am a careerist too. i take what I do very seriously too. And I feel I am just as capable of discerning a means to be successful. But to imply that the quality of information somehow belongs to those who work for the top businesses involved, I disagree with. An athlete that trains for years to be an Olympian is not a failure if they don't make it to the Olympics. There is more than one measure of success. the rules are changing.
Comics professionals actually gain momentum and fame and fandom from peers and fans alike by "making their own way". Its a red badge of courage in this . Now, agencies and publishing houses are finally seeing the worth of "graphic novels" and will argue that the old rules still apply to this new type of publishing; all the while comics professionals are getting flack for continuing what they have always done.
It has been discussed that when an author self-publishes, agents look at your ISBN figures to determine if you are anybody they should work with. Its unfortunate its such a stark black and white.
People should be able to find their own way without the fear wrong-doing. The rules are changing. The way information is distributed is changing.
I know people may disagree with this, and I didn't mean to be critical. Thanks for letting me share.
>I am a reader. I disagree. I buy books based on what I think is a good 'read', not who published it.
There may be a threat of bad books flooding the market. But it is just a threat. If it is a bad book, people will not buy it, thus no flood.
Just like any other industry, things of poor quality will not sell.
Have you read "The Shack"? No one wanted to publish that book, for various reasons. Yet it became a "self published" best seller! Go figure. How many more "Shacks" are out there because they don't fit the rules or opinions of those in the industry?!
Fear of "change" is the death of many in industry.
I'm just saying.
>I was going to respond, but the conversation is just so big…I don't know if my voice is needed.
I am published, and I am a full SCBWI member, but if my peers knew how I really felt they would tar and feather me. I really disagree with the constructs of traditional publishing as the only gauge of worth. And this is coming from someone who has experienced success there.
For some reason, the suggestion to self-publish gets viewed as career suicide from my peers, and even worse, someone who self-publishes is somehow slapping the face of anyone who worked hard to be published "the right way".
I have been terrified to even suggest that I want to try to do some ideas outside the confines of the submission process and just make something fun I can have control of.
Even though I am published, it is from two small publishers. I am continuing to shop my work out in the bigger arena now. But it is SLOW. And there are no guarantees. And a truth about my career is I have built up a small local fan base as a presenter at schools and libraries. I make a good living at it. I often get asked "when will your next book be out?". I can't wait for the sloooowwwwww publishing process to catch up to the reality of the here-and-now of my career. For a 5th grade fan who is asking me when my next book is out, I need to offer her something soon because she might be going to her first homecoming dance by the time that happens if I am trapped in fear of abiding by "the right way". My career is happening now, and I should be able to bring ideas to life now without worrying about getting in trouble for for a stigma. Shouldn't I have the right to take a little control to do what I need to continue staying viable?
People should be able to make a choice that is right for them without fearing being ostracized for breaking arbitrary imposed rules of engagement by an industry that feels they are more than just a collective group of similar businesses, but the rulemakers. They are not the Society of Publishing Standards and Practices. There are no Ten Commandments of Publishing. At least not real ones. They are just a collective of professionals that want you to play on their terms. Agents and editors want you to think these guidelines are in place.
I used to think that as harsh as they can be sometimes, agents and editors are our friends and they want to help us grow. Then I read elitist comments with words like "special club", "gatekeepers", and "exclusivity" and it makes me think, "shame on you a little, Rachelle". Being in a position to make or break someone's career at one's specific place of employment should not be equated to an overall sense of entitlement to decide what is or is not "exclusive". Stating "this book is not right for us", should not be equated to "You are a failure at writing and you can't join our special club". Agents and editors don't hold all the keys to Eden. Only one. That specific one where they work. There are many other doors. There are even back doors, and you can't judge someone you didn't let in because they found another way in. Some people are their own gatekeepers in life.
>Rachelle & Mike
Genuine Question: Is there any chance that the proceeds from TN & Hh self-pubbed lines will raise the profit margins of these publishers and thus offer them the freedom to traditionally publish MORE books?
(thanks for stopping by Mike!)
>I agree, Rachelle. I agree.
>"The industry is broken, but I don't think this is the way to fix it."
That is a solid thought, but what is the fix?
>Maybe everyone's looking at this all wrong.
For the agent: Your slush pile will be greatly reduced, considerably on the "seriously not good" side.
For authors: those of us who value the filtering process will continue to send our material to agents, and since the reduction of the less than stellar material has freed up more time for the agent, a quality writer will actually have a greater chance of being traditionally published.
And everyone is happy!
>Amazing comments. I love reading them. Thanks for addressing this!
btw, I think I'm less worried now about these books being in the stores. However…they're still on the internet no matter what changes come with traditional publishing.
>I'm with you, Rachelle. I've worked hard to perfect my craft, and I want the stamp of recognition that traditional publishing gives. I also think self-publishing as a norm will shift the business from the (somewhat flawed) meritocracy it is now to a plutocracy based on the author's ability to pay. And that really scares me, because I'm broke!
As a reader, I share your fears. I'm also an editor and have seen that slush firsthand. I don't want it out there in the marketplace, cluttering things up and making it more difficult for readers to find the really good books.
The industry is broken, but I don't think this is the way to fix it.
I want you to know that I have admired how you have handled the recent debates over new issues in publishing. You have been diplomatic, respectful, reasonable, and open to ideas that are different from your own. I think highly of you for it.
The story of the recent success of Andy Andrews book, The Traveler's Gift, adds an interesting twist to this discussion. This book became a publishing phenonmenon by appearing simultaneously on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal,USA Today, Publisher's Weekly, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. During its 17 weeks on the NYT Bestseller list, it reached #5. It has been translated into 20 languages and has already become required reading by some high schools.
Before this, Andrew's book was turned down by 51 publishers. No, that's not a typo. 51. It took three years. Andrews relates, "If anyone knew how many times I locked myself in my office and read my own book—they'd be amazed." Only his dogged persistence and optimism kept him going.
Publishers and agents often miss works of quality. They may be our "gatekeepers," but I read of stories like this often. Andy Andrews story is no exception to the rule. That's because publishers are ultimately looking for what they think will sell right now. You know this, Rachelle. It's one of the things you preach to us here: publishing is a business. You have also told us of your frustration over a quality manuscript on your desk that you can't get any publishers to commit to, because they don't think it will sell. Thus, the experts often miss great work.
History bears this out, too. Many of the outstanding books and authors we now admire had to get their start with self-publishing. This astounds me. But there is no disputing it.
What does this show us? I would never disagree with you that many self-published books are of poorer quality. But it's also true that great writing is not always completely evident to the established gatekeepers.
Self-publishing has been with us for well over a hundred years. It's not really the new kid on the block. What is changing is our access to self-published books, fueled by the internet. Ultimately, this will mean more choices, both for authors and for readers.
Self-publishing is an expression of freedom: artistic freedom for the common man. I don't think that's ultimately going to be a bad thing. Great writers will still create great books, and readers will still stand in line and pay for words that are like pure gold.
We will know the difference between gold and tin, just as we always have. The reader is the final gatekeeper, after all.
>I'm always amazed that "Christian" writers, agents, and publishers almost NEVER (on blogs) show any concern about the books serving to win souls to Christ. It always is so much selfishness showing through. Me, Me, Me.
AND Publishers want authors to PROVE to them that they have the platform to sell books. WELL: If someone has the capability to sell the books: WHY do they need a publisher? They can self pub, sell to their market; and if it's good, word of mouth will spread it all over. The author would make the big money they deserve.
HOWEVER, some writers actually are writing to serve God, and win souls. They actually CARE about God and souls. Those are the people I always try to encourage…God sees your pure motives and HE will use your work as HE wishes. It appears to me that such writers are far too rare.
I don't care about all this controversy about the new self pub with T N and H. I care about what God cares about: the people WE SHOULD be winning to Christ.
>This post sums up how I feel about this week's publishing news. However, I don't believe most of the books that are self-pubbed or pubbed through vanity press ever make it to actual stores. They linger on Amazon.com or are available through the author's website.
Only with publishers pushing these books, do they make it to the reader. Yes, there are tales of authors who've broke out through self-publishing, but they've spent serious time selling their books. If authors aren't willing to spend serious time investing in their writing, I don't think they will spend that time marketing their books either.
Thanks for such a well-thought out post!
>Ugh, I think I'll just stick to speaking & blogging for awhile. It's all too messy for me. :/ Interesting reading all the perspectives, tho.
>Apologies for my appalling spelling. I'm getting quite excercised about this subject.
Naturally I meant 'good' literature.
>When all books are in digital form there's no selection process. Most people are able to set up a blog, so anyone will be able to publish a book. Or have I misunderstood?
I see the establishment of self-publishing arms as just a cynical way for publishers who see their revenues falling in the face of Sony readers and such like to earn more profits. Money, pure and simple. they have no regard for god literature, but then when did quality come into making money, which is what publishing is all about?
I'm not sure the selection process works as well as you say it does. If you have a platform you can get your book published. You don't even have to write it yourself. Pretty pictures will do. Katie Price a la Jordan here in Britain comes to mind. Her books are appalling, if you can call them books.
>I've not read all 80 comments, so this is likely redundant, but I think it's important to distinguish between self-publishing and this disturbing vanity/subsidy publisher movement (if it can be called that). The main difference, self-publishing means you get to retain rights and the profits, not as HQN and Westbow are doing, where they own the isbn and the author only gets a portion of the net profits.
Self-publishing isn't bad by itself. It's hard to achieve any kind of success through it with rare exceptions. Far harder in my opinion than the traditional routes. It takes money and time, lots of it generally to give one any chance of success. 99% of writers don't have either of these, or the know-how to successfully do the things that generate the essential readership to make it work. It's biggest draw is the 100% control one gets over everything related to publication.
The vanity/subsidy option, of which Westbow and HQN are the latest glaring examples, are doing little more than fleecing unsuspecting writers of hard-earned money. They don't offer anything other than putting the process into one convenient package and charging you exhorbitant fees to do so. They offer the illusion of professional publication, but in reality one gets no real advantage over doing it all yourself. Research and far less money will achieve the same result. They offer the dream of publication so many seek, but honestly, all I think they are doing is preying upon it.
Writers, if you are seriously considering self-pub, then do some research and do it yourself. Pay for the needed services through freelancers who are just as good or better for less investment. Talk to folks who have done it before and really understand what you're getting into. Understand that what you are most likely to achieve out of all of it is seeing your book printed and bound with a cool cover on it. That's it. You may sell a few copies. Odds are not more than a hundred or so. Be willing to go into it and not earn your money back because that's the odds too. Don't get me wrong, it can work for a select few in niche markets, but the breakout success is the 1 in a few million shot. I can't say it enough. Self-pubbing is extremely difficult to find success in. Don't think about it if that is your hope. You are better off to keep writing, get better, and keep submitting. A few years down the road maybe things will have changed, but not now. There are far more books out there than there are readers to read them, and the vast majority of readers are not going to be looking to pay for self-pubbed material when there is more than enough through channels that are more convenient and provide a far greater chance they will find something they want and like to read.
>As an unpublished writer of fiction, I will never self-publish. As a reader, those books don't interest me. Worthy books can be self-published, but I consider it a form of printing, not publishing. If my writing captures the attention of enough publishing professionals to garner a contract, it validates the quality of my writing in a way that self-publishing does not. I know many people don't feel this way, but I do.
>While competition and survival of the fittest are sound biological principles, I'm not convinced it's a good marketing strategy for an entire industry.
Self-publishing has a purpose. It has a reason. It has a niche that it fills. I understand the complaint from some authors about the "trash of the shelves" and "elitist publishing" (understand, mind you, not agree).
I know it's frustrating for an author to see 600 titles about vampires and their 1000th rejection for their zombie novel. Sometimes the bookshelves seem to be on too much of a trend.
But I don't think self-publishing is going to help.
We already have 600 vampire titles on the loose. We do not need to add every Get-Rich-Quick writer with a Twilight fanfic slash dream publishing their novel and making it harder to find something without vampires (I do like vampires, this is just an example). Part of an editor or agent's job is to keep the redundant fiction off the shelf.
Readers trust the publishers to pick sets of stories that are each unique in some way. So while there may be 600 vampires titles available, they'll all be different.
For a major publisher to water down their brand in the name of money is a Bad Idea. Harlequin is well respected within the romance community. They're throwing their good name, and the good name of all their good authors, away in the name of money. So now you can buy your way into the Harlequin pantheon of authors rather than writing a decent book.
And then what?
Once a publisher goes that route and loses their credibility no author who has another option will go with them. Agents won't want to work with them. And the publisher goes the way of AuthorHouse… it's just another mill.
If a publisher really wants a self-publishing arm it needs to be under another brand name from their respectable publication name, they need to not advertise to every author submitting work, and they need to not make false promises that spending $600 to get your book printed will make them pick up your option so you can be famous…. for $600.
>Thanks for your post. I agree that non-fiction and self-publishing are a good match, especially for local history, writing about arts and craft and memoir etc. I'm currently working on a non-fiction historical project that I hope to have published some time down the road when the research and writing are done. I know of several outfits that can produce a good looking book. I also know that I'll have to get an editor to check every line so it will be a good product.
Self published fiction I've seen always looks desperate. Even among those writers I personally know. When they talk at writer's gatherings, they sound frustrated or dismissive of evil agents and publishers. I just don't want to go there. Getting published is a hard slog, but I'm in it for the long haul because I love to write and have stories to tell.
>" . . . then books from big publishers definitely will be side-by-side with self-pubbed books on the virtual bookshelf. It will be harder for the average consumer to differentiate. I guess the question becomes, "does it matter?"
Does that matter to me as a reader? Probably not, personally. 90% of what I read is recommended by a few people who have a good 'crap screen.'
Does it matter to me as a writer? Here's a twist, R: If the access to self-pub increases, the slush pile I have to slug throgh to get your attention may actually decrease.
I have to imagine that a lot of writers suffer the 99% rejection exposure because they have little choice. Give them a path of less resistance and cut my exposure to what I am still trying to do – Traditional Pub.
Does all of this 'greasy access' make me feel less special as a published writer? Not enough to stay my fingers.
The commercial justification of all this hope and effort is the sticking point. Balancing family, work, friends and writing is a plate spinner in a windstorm. I guess all we can do is be aware of the Macro Economics and then try to do the next Right Thing more than just doing the next Thing Right.
>I have to say I agree with your post. As an unpublished writer I will never self-publish. Yes, I do love my writing and believe in it, but I know it can be better. There is always room for improvement. That's why I'm going to be looking for an agent. I know nothing about editing, publishing or any kind of marketing – I write. Why would I want to self-publish knowing nothing of the sorts?
Plus, as an avid reader, I also want to pick up a book to read knowing it's the best it can be.
I give props to those few who've made a success of self-publishing. I myself, will never be one of them.
>Good points, Rachelle. I totally get it. As a writer myself and a former agent, I can see this from many points of view. (Sometimes I think this is a curse.)
I personally think all this dialog is great. You are always very respectful and keep it focused on the issues—which I love.
While I do agree there is much in the self-pub world that lacks both meaningful substance and artistic integrity, I would disagree that the trad. publishers primarily see their first priority as serving as gatekeepers of literary quality. In my experience, the bottom line presented to me from a traditional publishing house was a financial one: "Does the author have a substantial-enough platform to make the deal financial viable?" The exec at the publishing house I spoke with even said, "I hate that it's this way." The author's MESSAGE is not of foremost importance, it seems. Since when is financial viability – over and above the value of the message – a value of God's Kingdom? Maybe we need a different publishing model; and the reason so many self-pub options are springing up is to fill that gap that traditional pub. has left. We can also trust the market to decide what quality is: If it's not selling because it's junk, it won't matter who the publisher was. I'd welcome your thoughts. Thanks for the post.
>Michael Hyatt: As you know, I gave WestBow a pretty good defense in my post of October 14. On my blog I try to dissect the issues and encourage everyone to look at them from all angles; today is an example of that.
You find it curious that “most of the rants about this are coming from agents.” I don’t find it curious at all, for two reasons:
(1) Agents are, for the most part and with a few exceptions like yourself, some of the most popular and well-read publishing bloggers nowadays. We’ve taken on the responsibility of engaging writers in the conversation about publishing, and we take this seriously. It’s a given that we’d be blogging about the biggest changes to hit publishing, and encouraging people to think them through.
(2) More importantly, and you know this: Agents are in the business of representing writers. Most of us are agents because we love books and we love working with authors. Although we have great relationships with publishers, we are the advocates not for publishers but for authors. And I think each of us is trying to process these new changes from the perspective of What does this mean for our authors?
You may have noticed that authors have been even more vocal about these new developments than agents, and that’s because they’re afraid their hard work is going to be devalued. It’s a legitimate concern. They’ve spent years developing their gifts to become good writers; many of us (agents/editors) have spent years working right alongside these writers. We all have the same concern, that these years of paying the dues will suddenly be meaningless because anyone can buy their way in.
Granted, it’s probably a bit of “the sky is falling” mentality. Perhaps the reaction is exaggerated. But it’s based on a real concern; and I think it's wrong to assert that we agents are simply worried about our livelihood. Sure, maybe it’s true for some. But most of the agents whom I count as my friends are young and savvy; they’ll roll with the changes. We’re aware that those who can’t adapt will need to find another line of work. I think it's underestimating the intelligence and foresight of most agents to imply we’re simply afraid of losing the business model under which we currently operate. Every agent I know is already well down the road of thinking through the question of how to reinvent our place in the publishing industry.
And that is a topic I’ll be addressing on this blog in a couple of weeks.
Thanks for adding your perspective – I always appreciate your comments.
>2 of 2
"By entering self-publishing, they're going 180 degrees away from that. And they're doing it for the money, because otherwise they might just go out of business altogether. (I get that part.)"
You're clearly right here. All I would suggest is that you expand the idea of "they're doing it for the money" to include the current model. In effect, what you're seeing the industry do (overall) is respond with the same corporate spreadsheet-centric mindset that has dominated the business for more than a decade. Relative to self-publishing they don't care about books, literature, content, authors — nothing but dollars. My argument is that in many ways that's already the case.
"I just don't see how any of this ends up serving readers."
The primary reader problem is filtering. How do readers find good books? There will have to be new 'gatekeepers' (curataors, whatever) who tackle this problem, but in the age of social networking I think it's doable. (In this case the internet causes and solves the same problem. Hopefully.)
"It serves writers, yes, but at what cost? Will the work of all writers be devalued?"
Economically, yes. Critically, no.
"Worse—will writers lose the motivation to become master craftsmen?"
No. Nobody ever went into writing with a love of craft foremost in their mind and expected to get rich. People who love craft love craft first. (I love craft.)
"But to raise self-publishing to the level it seems to be going, and to have it focused on fiction… sorry, I'm not excited about it."
Think if it as a transition. A lot of people are going to get interested, a lot of people will much around with the new toys, but in the end very few people will 'survive' the experience. There will be a massive inflow, consolidation, and a purge.
"What are your thoughts about self-publishing becoming a much bigger business than it already is?"
It's going to be a service-driven industry, and at some point in the future (not too far distant) the products (books/e-content) will be commodities. And that's not really a bad thing.
"How might it serve you as a reader—or not?"
More choice. More work, yes, but more choice.
"How might it serve you as a writer—or not?"
More opportunity to connect directly with readers. After that, it's all gravy.
At the end of the day I understand your concerns. But I think the momentum in all this is not driven by bad writers it's driven by ease of distribution — and that's something publishing houses can also take advantage of. There will always be books, big (and medium and small) publishers, and celebrated (and special) authors. The only difference is that there will no longer be the kind of exclusivity you talked about, and I see that as a good thing. I don't like private clubs and exclusionary groups and one group of people making decisions for everyone else — particularly on the pretext of cultural purity.
Let's see what the mutts can do.
>1 of 2
You raise some good questions here, but I don't think some of your premises hold up. Stripping them out reveals a simpler problem and one that will inevitably be resolved by market forces.
"Published books have always been respected because of the many gatekeepers they had to go through to get on that bookstore shelf."
You're making two arguments here. One is that there's a qualitative superiority to professionally published books, and that's true. The other is that the people who are deciding which books get published are doing so on the basis of quality, and that's false. The books that get published today are books that will sell, and calculations about what will sell often involve the worst in people and the lowest-common-denominator in appeal. Nobody is making the argument today that the main/traditional gatekeepers in the book business are gatekeeping anything except a balance sheet.
"If anybody can get a book published, doesn't that diminish the perceived status of all authors?"
I would argue that it destroys all metrics but one: the quality of the author's work. In a marketplace saturated with content (think music, think movies, think computer games), it's going to be the quality of the experience which wins out — assuming a level playing field in terms of marketing, etc. And frankly, I'd rather compete head-to-head with other writers on the merits than with a room full of editors number-crunching projected sales.
"As I look at all the books I say 'no' to, and then realize these books could be for sale within a matter of months, I get depressed."
Believe me, I know what you're talking about when you say there is a lot of bad writing out there. (And I'm not saying I'm good.) Sturgeon's Law says that 90% of anything is crap, and I believe it. But there are two points to consider here. First, nobody is going to floor-stock a bunch of really bad books. There's no economic engine that's going to put crummy writing on the shelves at B&N or anywhere else. Second, the opportunity to put work out there without gatekeepers is going to result in good writers being discovered. As a reader you are going to be rewarded for the carnage.
"Major publishers have always been in the business of culling through the masses to find the cream of the crop. In my mind, they've set themselves up as gatekeepers and arbiters of literary taste. They've taken on that responsibility."
Maybe in the old days, yes — but not now. I recently read a novel by a solid mid-list author with multiple titles to his credit. The book was published two years ago. It was approved by the arbiters of literary taste. And yet in the end it was bad television. Awful, predictable, and yet also apparently profitable. Whatever you think about the system-to-come, the one in place now is not humming along smoothly. It's broken.
>Rachelle, I agree with you. When I buy a book in the future, I don't want to have to scrutinize each one to see if it has been self-published. I can't help but believe that quality will go down and that authors and publishing in general will be devalued somewhat. Guess we'll see… just wish it wasn't all going down this road.
>I'm not thrilled with it AT ALL. And I'm even less thrilled about RWA and now MWA pretty much saying that any books under ANY of the Harlequin imprints will be viewed as illegitimate–MWA even goes so far as eventually denying membership to writers who have been published by any of the Harlequin imprints.
I think all of that is absurd.
I understand their reasoning but it seems to me their punishing all those authors who have been published traditionally by Harlequin. And in order to "make a point", they are essentially alienating and punishing those who have done it the correct way.
The whole thing just irks me to no end. I've posted about it on my blog the last two days and I still don't feel like I've ranted about it enough 😛
Anyway, it's depressing…I don't care for self-publishing for many of the reasons you mentioned. If it becomes the norm, how in the world does one weed through all the garbage?
>My 4-year-old self-publishes her own books. She takes looseleaf papers decorated with crayon pictures, adds some uninteligible scribble, and she's got a book! My 7-year-olds are more sophisticated.
Self-publication has no credence and should gain none. You hit the nail on the head, Rachelle, authors need to be validated by a higher authority than themselves, or readers for that matter.
>Oh wow… I'm still revising my opinions on the topic, but so far, this is what I think.
1. It's a smart business decision for these houses to add a self-publishing arm. It's another source of income when I suspect they desperately need it.
2. I do not approve of the apparently predatory marketing tactic that Harlequin seems to use on those that they reject for traditional publishing.
3. I hope some agreements can be reached between the offending houses and the writers' organizations. The writers need the support, and if their work doesn't count as published because of the house even though it went through traditional routes, I think that penalizes the writer just as much as the house. I understand that many writers are willing to make that sacrifice.
4. I don't see these ventures as a threat to the traditionally published books for the reasons that many cited above: shelf space, distribution, etc.
5. I do see an opportunity for branding of those books that cleared the gatekeepers. Something of the sort would be necessary on Amazon, especially with the explosion of e-self publishing.
6. I'm not clever enough to come up with it, but I woul love to see a way to publish those projects that agent love but can't sell and that editors love but know are too risky for their house to publish. I am sure that because of economics there is a lot of high quality work that can't make it into print right now. This is why I am unabashedly excited about Carina Press. What I would like to see is some kind of POD option partnered with an e-publisher that uses traditional gatekeeping. If I read something on my Kindle and absolutely love it, I am likely going to want a print copy too.
That's all I've got for now, and I reserve all rights to change my opinions.
>I'm hoping all this means that consumers will eventually go straight to their favourite publishers to buy books, and that those publishers will continue to be 'gatekeepers', while readers and publishers both save money thanks to bypassing chain stores and other retailers.
I also hope that these gatekeepers find the burden of huge slush piles somewhat relieved as the less persistent/talented/studied give up the chase in favour of easy self-publishing, and therefore editors might have more time to help make great books greater.
Who knows, we may even go back to the days where newspaper reviews covered pages instead of a few column inches, as readers search for what's good amid all the dreck on the bookshop shelves.
I hope. I hope a lot of things. The whole revolution we're in is depressing in some ways but exciting too.
>I think you're right, in some ways. As a reader, I appreciate that the agents and editors in the world are there to wade through the slush and find the good stuff, and as a writer I'll be more than happy to wait for a real publisher when my book is ready in a few months. But I also like to think that booksellers won't be grabbing up tons of these self-published books to throw on their shelves, either. Maybe an impatient author will self-publish and put their book up online, but I don't think they will be able to get the kind of shelf space traditional publishing gets; at least for now. (Of course, as e-readers become more popular, this might not even matter, but then I don't think they'll be getting the advertising area that books published the traditional way get.) But I think there is still a lot of prestige in traditional publishing, and it will continue to be that way.
Deep down, those self-publishers know they are kind of cheating.
>Will they publish garbage? Sure, but the garbage will exist w/ nothing more than ISBN #s and very few, if anybody, will see it. Good literature will prevail and see the light of day (I hope)!
Which is why it's a bad idea for the writer to give their money to Harlequin and WestBow Press. The chances of recouping your costs are very, very low. We know this because we can study the history of these endeavors. There are much cheaper options out there that can give you the same product and increase the likelihood of recouping your costs.
Oh, and if you're wondering how sleazy Harlequin has been on this: they admitted they would be marketing this to their author-customers as a way to be a Harlequin author, but that the books themselves wouldn't be marketed as Harlequin products.
In other words, they'll go on a date with you as long as you promise not to tell anyone you guys went out.
(Now that they said they'll drop the Harlequin name from the line, I don't know what else will change).
>Thanks for your response Rachelle and after reading what you said I would agree that books self published without any professional editing or critiqueing may be of a lesser quality.
Wouldnt this be more likely to occur when they are printed by a Lulu type of service, rather than westbow or Believerspress?
It appears that in this business reputation is as important as content. At the end of the day, the book will show somebody's imprint which may help keep bad books from being published. Then again maybe I'm just naive, who knows. Anyway these blogs are great, thanks!
>Rachelle your thoughts are well plotted out, thank you. As someone who is striving to succeed in the publishing world by traditional means this appears to be an alarming trend. But as an e-book owner I have access to just about everything. I've stumbled upon some questionable material. And you know what? I've dismissed it. I base most of my purchases off reviews and believe great insight lies with the masses. Also, my Kindle allows me to sample the first chapter for free. Already I am a gate keeper of sorts.
I liken this new trend to professional produced movies and You Tube. You Tube has it's value. I enjoy it, my kids enjoy it, probably a little too much but we both understand there is a difference. Perhaps that is the case with this new publishing landscape. It is slippery terrain, yes. But perhaps there is not far to fall and nothing to be afraid of.
As for vanity presses who want to suck dollars and dreams out of vulnerable writers pockets, I say shame on you.
As for writers who choose small presses with limited distribution I say think twice my friends, pray about it and if you choose this route, Godspeed. However in all situations be grounded in reality when pursuing these methods. Yes, marketing does fall primarily square on the authors shoulders in all cases but distribution is key in the world we live in right now. Will it be in six months when the world wakes up and realizes they already have an e-reader (Nathan's post) probably.
As for straight to e-book, part of my dream is seeing my book in print, bound between soft or hard covers. For now simply an e-book cheapens the dream a little. I'm old school that way.
>I've been watching this RWA/Harlequin issue light up the boards at RWA loops/ACFW and on blogs.
I'm new to the industry (not even two years now) so I'm learning a lot by all these posts and discussion.
I want the thrill of hard work, submitting to agents and editors, entering contests, and, yes, I'll even take the rejection letters.
I feel like if I went and self published, the 'running with perseverance toward the prize' (traditional publication) is lost.
Great discussion, everyone.
>Self-publishing has a long history as an alternative to mainstream publishing. Many female writers, for example, were self-published in the 18th C because the market was difficult for them to break into (that shouldn't be a surprise). Self-publishing is independent and libertarian. I toast self-publishers because they are independent and make their own way in the world. Will they publish garbage? Sure, but the garbage will exist w/ nothing more than ISBN #s and very few, if anybody, will see it. Good literature will prevail and see the light of day (I hope)!
>More importantly, why is the prevailing thought here that just because a book is self-published that it somehow will always be poorly written and poorly produced?
Because most of them are. All of them? Absolutely not. Some are brilliant and should've been published. But how do you as the customer know? The book you bought from WestBow or Hh might've been written by someone who should've been published but for some reason or other wasn't; or it could've been written by someone who doesn't believe in punctuation, thinks grammar is for nerds, and wouldn't know a plot if it bit them on the behind. I've seen this stuff, and many of these writers believe they are very good. That they deserve to be published.
Why should paying customers have inferior products foisted on them?
>I could be wrong but I think bookstores will be even more cautious about what they stock if there are lots more books published through the self-pub route.
As a business owner myself, I know a poor-quality product isn't going to make my business much money. Though I don't own a bookstore, I'd be skeptical of accepting the authors' hype about their books and rely on a publisher's marketing department to tell me which books are good enough that the publisher will invest money to promote them.
To me, the bigger threat to traditional publishing seems to be the proliferation of small publishing "companies" that say they vet the books they accept and sell them for extremely low prices online.
Some do a good job of editing and producing quality ebooks, but others are disappointing. As a reader, I like the variety of books offered, but still rely on word of mouth or prior experience with an author's work to screen my purchases. I only buy unfamiliar books online if they offer the first chapter or random excerpts to read before I buy them. If the book seems to fit my taste and expectations, I don't care if it is self-published
>James 8:13: Several of the comments have pointed out that a self-pubbed book isn't necessarily going to be a poor quality product, and I agree with that. But if you're wondering why the prevailing sentiment is that it probably will be, it's because past experience has shown us that in the vast majority of cases, that's the way it works. Of all the hundreds of self-pubbed books I've seen, very few of them could have passed for a commercially published book (in terms of the editorial content alone – I'm not talking about packaging and design).
>A lot of badly written books make it through now because someone had connections to someone somewhere. Met so and so at convention. We drank a beer together. My brother-in-law plays golf with his lawyer and so on. Maybe it is time for a change.
>Don't worry. Masses of self-published books won't devalue literature any more than YouTube devalued cinema. The good stuff will find its audience, the bad stuff will die, and bookstores will always be gatekeepers because there is no financial incentive to waste space on terrible books that no one wants to buy.
>My sense is that publishers are seeing the writing on the wall– writers are already finding ways to circumvent the "gate" publishers are keeping. With an account through Lightening Source, anyone can get books made and listed in Books in Print. Then viola– you're available on Amazon and B&N websites. That means the benefit publishers traditionally leveraged– exclusivity and the bankroll for an offset print run–is being eroded by new technologies. Without making a value statement, I can totally see why a publisher would want to try to insert itself into the self-publishing process as a way to find new revenue.
>I'm with you on this, Rachelle.
It's interesting what Michael Hyatt commented, because his company owns Westbow press so he stands to gain financially either way.
I think people will have to begin to rely much more heavily on peer reviews. We have to have a way to find the rose among the thorns!
>I don't like change either, and I'm sort of watching with trepidation.
However I'm not worried that the new system will be bad, it will just be different. The current "gatekeepers" will be replaced with new "gatekeepers". The cream will always still rise to the top.
Honestly, it seems like agents talk about how hard it is to sell a book these days. Something obviously has to give. I realize the next phase might be worse for awhile, but eventually it will work itself out. And anything has to be better than what we have now.
>We are at a crossroads and publishing and the author have put us here.
Publishing for contracting that small percentage of books with outrageous advances (that do not sell through).
Authors for giving away their work for free on the internet and with presses that do not pay advances and pay little or no royalties.
Why are we surprised that in this economic recession, an industry that hasn't reworked its business model in a decade is faced with financial challenges AND technological changes that are stressing and challenging their bottom line is looking for alternative cash flow?
Nothing is black and white anymore. It's all gray and getting grayer.
>(Disclaimer, I have no ties to anyone)
If I am not mistaken, Westbow does offer the book stores the same buy-back option if they dont sell the book.
More importantly, why is the prevailing thought here that just because a book is self-published that it somehow will always be poorly written and poorly produced?
>How would a bookstore know it won't sell until they order it and try to sell it? Right now bookstores are trusting that publishers are vetting stories for quality. There's a reason they don't stock books by vanity publishers.
Why should the cream rise to the top now? These vanity publishers already exist. The company Harlequin and Thomas Nelson are working with has half a dozen vanity imprints. Of the tens of thousands of books that get printed by them, how many have risen to the top? Very, very few. You can pretty much name most of them.
No, a more likely scenario is that someone will see a poor quality Harlequin Horizons book somewhere (online most likely, or in a bookstore that hasn't yet cottoned to what Hh is), read it, and think the quality of HQN has seriously declined. And stop reading HQN books entirely.
Even if you think all Harlequin books are bad, or all romance books are bad, trust me, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
>The comments are so intelligent and seem to be covering all aspects of this issue, so I don't feel like I need to add much.
However, just want to make clear that my thoughts today come in context of my earlier post (HERE), in which I acknowledged the positives of publishers changing their business models and allowing authors and readers more direct connection with each other, without so many middlemen and gatekeepers. I firmly agree with Marty Coleman, above, who said "fighting the trend is thinking fearfully." But I'm trying to open up thinking about all aspects of this.
Of course, if you put this in context of Nathan Bransford's assertion that the entire industry will be moving to e-books sooner rather than later (HERE), it puts another whole spin on the issue. How readers shop for books is the gigantic unanswered question here. How long will brick & mortar stores survive? If we are all shopping for books "virtually" and rarely even walk into a bookstore, then books from big publishers definitely will be side-by-side with self-pubbed books on the virtual bookshelf. It will be harder for the average consumer to differentiate. I guess the question becomes, "does it matter?"
To me, it does. But maybe it won't to the average consumer.
>I'm with you Rachelle…just thinking out loud. My initial reaction is that publishing isn't so much going to lose it's prestige, but people are going to be more discerning over how the book came into being.
The Internet is sort of that way now. Any freak can make a Web page, but it takes a special kind of freak to make as Web site that has credibility AND to have the resources to make people aware that his product exists.
I can make a Web page that's as easy to reach as CNN's, but I will never have the exposure they enjoy. So it's really not the same in the ways that are important.
Self-pubbed books will be the same. Few will have the resources to print 5000, let alone 5 mil.
But I must admit that I'll always be attracted to the idea of getting power out of the hands of the few and giving it to the many…just my conservative nature.
People will vote with their money, and if a self-pubbed author gets the "votes"…being a lover of democracy, it's hard to argue with that…
>Self-publishing is akin to paying someone to marry you. Maybe I'm just needy, but I would never be able to believe it was the "real thing". I NEED the assurance that my books are readable, enjoyable, etc. I can only get that through the unbiased opinion of an agent or publisher.
>It seems to me if a book stinks and doesn't sell a bookstore won't carry it. It will be up to the author of the stinky book to sell it. Wouldn't the author have to fund the publishing process if s/he is self publishing? I don't know what the process will be but I sincerely hope so.
>One aspect of this debate that hasn't been touched on much is the advantage agents and editors provide in the form of collaboration.
Sure, every writer should have a few careful readers of late-stage work, but having several more careful readers before publication can turn a good book into a great one.
Without Maxwell Perkins, The Great Gatsby would not be what it is.
>I agree with those who are saying they believe the cream will rise to the top.
But I understand your concern. There are a lot of self-pubbed books that make me cringe, and I'd hate to see a world where all writers toss craft aside for the lure of speedy (and easy) publicaton.
Writers who do that aren't doing their story justice.
>Not only has the RWA revoked Harlequin's status (and I suspect they'll be doing the same to Thomas Nelson now, too), but the SFWA took a very strong stance (basically, status revoked as long as this imprint exists), and the MWA has threatened to revisit the issue after another deadline for another issue.
Harlequin Horizons and WestBow Press aren't self-publishers. They're vanity publishers. The customer does not get to keep all the profit, even though they paid all the expenses. The customer pays the outrageous initial fees (plus all the upselling the sales person will try to do) and gets only a percentage of the books' profits (in Hh's case, 50% of net). So Harlequin and Author Solutions will take over 50% of each sale the author-customer makes–because remember, net means after expenses, so those have to come out first–but the a-c does *all* the work to make the sale.
There's no sales force to help them get books into stores around the country, no publicist to help drum up publicity (unless you pay for an even more outrageous package and really, how much effort are they going to go to? They already have your money).
Go read the 600+ comments on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog on this subject and see why it's a genuinely bad deal for writers. (There are also a few threads on Dear Author). Go check out Writer Beware and see what they're saying about it. Read the SFWA's response and understand why so many of us are vehemently opposed to this venture. It's bad. It's really bad. It's trading on good brand names (I include WestBow Press in this) to take money from writers who may not understand just how uphill this battle really is.
If you don't want to go with a commercial publisher, at least do a lot of research first into self- and vanity-publishing. Find out what your options are. See why vanity publishing isn't a good idea. If your goal is more readers than what's in your Christmas card address list, don't throw away the book you spent months or years on just to have it printed between a couple pages of colored cardstock.
>While I can agree that the exclusivity will go down and the average quality may go down, I see it as a possibility that some really good stories may finally get told that simply are too different for mainstream publishing to accept. Just as an example, until very recently, if someone wanted to write a superhero type of story, it had to either be so edgy that the hero was an emotional wreck, or submitted to a graphic novel publisher and not permitted the 'status' of being published as a novel.
Some of our most famous stories today were rejected by so many editors that, in some cases, the author had to self-publish first simply to prove there was a market for the book.
>Would bookstores carry self-pubbed books?
My understanding (limited, mind you) is that bookstores stock books that publishers (1) offer at a significantly discounted wholesale price and (2) guarantee full refunds for copies unsold.
To my knowledge, no vanity press offers those incentives to bookstores. Why would they? Their target market is the writer, not readers.
>I am a photographer. With the advent of digital cameras every aunt, nephew and brother became someone to turn to for taking wedding photos or supplying images for the family business. I learned at that point that my job included education.
I had valid reasons why the work they thought was 'just fine' really wasn't. I pointed out to someone yesterday why the photos of her daughter's cheerleading squad weren't very good (bright sunlight on one of the girls, the rest in the shade). I didn't do it to diss the photographer, I did it to try to get the contract to do the next job for them. I was self-serving, yes, but my criticism was valid I was educating them as to what is good and not so good in visual imagery, and why.
I also am an organizer for a large photo group of about 350 here in Tulsa. I give monthly presentations on photography and a large part of my time is spent dissecting what makes a good photograph. Many of these amateur photographers go away better prepared to meet the needs of their families and friends if they are called about to do so AND give them images of good to high quality.
So, I would say the key is two-fold here. One, taking advantage of this phenom to become they educator for both the self-publishing authors and the public as to what constitutes good writing, and why (which you already are doing to a large degree in the blog).
Two, have a robust network of critics who hold these books to the same standards of traditionally published books.
In other words, fighting the trend is thinking fearfully. Embracing the trend and seeing how you can lift the trend up to the standards you believe in is thinking opportunistically.
>as a reader I'm torn on this. I want to be able to find a good quality book that I will enjoy.
I'm so freaking tired of what is being publishing now a days in the christian market.
The majority of the books bore me to death. If I see another western with the same plot line I'm going to puke.
The christian market needs more books with edge. More Angela hunts and less love fest with predictable plots where the herorine escapes with only a scratch. I want to see a main character die because of their choices. I want to see Heartsong books be better with more of an edge.
I also want to keep fiction books around and lets face it, they are dying off.
why won't the traditional publishers go to print-on-demand
>From what I understand, Harlequin Horizons ISN'T self-publishing, though that's what Harlequin is calling it. Self-publishing, as I've seen it explained, would involve the writer getting the publishing, distribution and marketing done herself. I've heard success stories and I've heard horror stories, because everyone doesn't know how to get the books distributed or marketed.
That's not solely a problem of self-publishing, though. Even new authors for small presses are often shocked by how much of the marketing they, the authors, are expected to do.
Horizons, however, is a vanity press, charging anywhere from $600 to $1,600 for various publishing "packages." The additional charges–such as line editing, setting up social networks on sites that charge nothing (like Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari), etc.–are extra. Hundreds–sometimes thousands–of dollars extra. The upshot is that you can pay up to $11,995 for publication by Horizons. Which will not distribute the book to bookstores, and which will not sell it in Harlequin's e-catalog. Harlequin WILL arrange to have the vanity-published books put on Amazon and the like…but as I've seen books published by Lulu.com posted on Amazon, I think that authors can arrange for Amazon to do this anyway. It doesn't appear to be that hard to get books posted to online bookstores.
The real trick is marketing. And that's where the Horizons books will fail, as far as the writers are concerned, because no one will be buying these books. And for most writers, having the books bought and read is the point. For Harlequin, the point is getting the writers' money, and the hell with what happens to the books after that.
I envision most of the Horizons books ending up in basements and garages–expensive monuments to a dream that didn't fly.
>From a newbie to the industry who admittedly does not know much, yet!
Maybe the reason there is a market for self-publishing now is because there is/ was not enough opportunities from the traditional publishers for new writers.
They recoginize this and have developed another avenue to get books in print, without as much risk.
Also, is the thought that just because someone may choose to pay up front that they will publish anything, regardless of the quality? If this is the case, then that would be really bad.
Again, being new and trying to get an agent and something published is not an easy task. Maybe, just maybe, the industry in some way have bought this upon themselves. My preference is to use the traditional approach if they accept my work, but if they dont, I now have an alternative.
>Bookstores won't be able to carry all of the self-published books, so for the people like me, who like to browse bookstores instead of Amazon, will we even notice the difference?
>Wish I had time to read through every comment. Wow.
I do think it stinks that self-pubbed books will be in stores along with "real" books, but I know how hard it is to get Barnes & Noble to put your "real" book on their shelves. I'm assuming they'll know which books are self-pubbed and which aren't and stock their stores accordingly.
I ran cross country in high school. One of my teammates couldn't run 3.1 miles w/o stopping. She'd walk, sprint, walk, sprint–and beat me! I hated it. I finally worked hard enough that her "cheating" wasn't good enough. 🙂
Did that even apply at all to what we're talking about??
At the risk of sounding like a flatterer, in the couple months we've worked together, your suggestions have improved my writing IMMENSELY. I've always thought you were good. Now I think you're stinkin' GOOD. I shudder to think of what my book would be like if I'd published it on my own.
Have a great weekend, Rachelle!
>Any writer who is in a writers group or critique group has seen some horrible writing. And "everyone" thinks that their book deserves publishing. But from what I've seen, self-pub'ed books are mainly sold out of the back of the mini-van of the author. I haven't seen a lot of them hit the book store shelves.
I think the industry is in major change mode and it will be interesting to see how things pan out.
>There are really two issues here: Quality and Business.
Quality: in the publishing industry as it currently functions, the book is as good as the publisher, their staff of experts, and the author can make it. In self-publishing, the book is as good as the author and the people they choose to work with can make it.
The presumption that this *must* result in a poor quality book is off-base. Working with professional editors, designers, and marketers can result in the same quality self-published book that you'd expect to receive from an established publisher.
The quality problem is anchored in education and industry maturity. Self-publishing authors need to be educated about the differences between a good book and a bad book. Companies who help authors self-publish need to develop to the point that they're sincerely helping authors develop, not just pumping up their orders.
Currently, the ultimate arbiter of success in the publishing industry is sales. Quality of writing, uniqueness of idea, those things all contribute to the value of a project only if they translate to sales.
We talk about gatekeepers — but, we have to ask, what keeps the gatekeepers in business? Selling books. I think we can all agree that the books that sell the most are not necessarily always the books that achieve the heights of artist perfection.
The general public doesn't buy books just because they are in a bookstore. Books are bought based on recommendation–reviews we've read, endorsements from people we trust (authors, ministry leaders, etc). Whether a book is published by Thomas Nelson or WestBowPress, the only way I'm going to buy it is if I have a reason to.
Self publishing is a bad idea if the book won't sell. But you know, unfortunately for us who aspire to be writers, publishing in general is a bad idea if the book won't sell. In either case, it's a bad idea because the business will not be sustainable.
Let blogging serve as some encouragement — blogs that are good reads (given enough time and effort) get readers. Blogs that are poorly written, generally (given enough time) die.
In books, we'll have the opportunity to watch the same principles at work.
(Disclaimer: I work for BelieversPress, we provide Christian authors with a trustworthy publishing team.)
>Rachelle, you've touched on something that few other bloggers have mentioned, and it's a good point about the self-publishing boom in general.
In fact, when I go into a bookstore and ask them to stock my books, I get the brush-off because they simply assume my books are published by iUniverse. (In fact they're published by Random House.) I've even been rejected when I've tried to donate my books to libraries!
I think writers are already suffering from this loss of prestige thing, and Harlequin and Thomas Nelson's moves just make it worse.
>This seems like a bit of a "sky-is-falling" perspective. And not all self-published books will be cruddy.
I wouldn't worry yet. There are basically two business models in the world: you can compete on quality, or compete on price. I don't know any reader who goes out of their way to buy a book solely because it's cheap, and doesn't care about quality. A vacation in Disney World is not cheap at all, yet thousands upon thousands of people flock there because they know that the majority of the time, they will have a quality experience that is more memorable than perhaps a more affordable trip would have been.
I think it will be important for traditional publishing houses (along with their self-pub arms) and agents to continue to try to align their brands with quality.
>Wow, I'm really surprised by some of the answers here. Rachelle, I agree with most of what you say, but I think that DISTRIBUTION is still a de facto gatekeeper.
Indeed, Harlequin Horizons (which has now agreed to change its name to remove "Harlequin", because of the RWA's strong reaction in revoking their recognized publisher status) specifically stated — to reassure their existing traditional authors — that the new vanity-pubbed books would NOT be side-by-side in bookstores with "true" Harlequin books. In short, that the self-pubbed would never be distributed like the traditional pubs. They were very clear about protecting the READER (despite, apparently, actively trying to confuse naive authors).
And OF COURSE you get "better service" with vanity presses talking to you on the phone! They're going to TAKE YOUR MONEY!
Finally, I don't think that agents are the only ones ranting. WRITERS are up in arms about this, too. Not because they want others to travel the same hard road as them, but because right now self-publishing for fiction is false hope. It's playing the lottery, and it's evil to tell naive writers that THEY MAY ALREADY BE A WINNER!
>I pretty much agree with you. I think self-publishing has a place (and I consider the new Harlequin imprint to be more along the lines of vanity publishing than self-publishing). I've bought self-published books from Amazon. Recently I needed to research what life on a llama farm was like and bought a self-published book about this. But I think we need gatekeepers for fiction, to keep the quality high.
>I'm really enjoying reading everyone's perspectives – thanks for chiming in.
Just to be clear: I guess I could be deluding myself, but I'm pretty sure my thoughts are not coming from my fear of losing my gig as an agent. I've had a career for 24 years that has spanned advertising, broadcast television, and various aspects of publishing including rights, sales, editing and writing. I've only been an agent for two years. It's not the ultimate prism through which I view the world.
I've always viewed the world from the perspective of a reader. And as a reader, I get extremely frustrated and impatient with books that aren't to my tastes. So yes, my rant stems from some fear, I admit, but I think it's the fear of having to work even harder (as a reader, not as an agent) to find books that I enjoy reading.
>I believe the issue has two folds, and maybe more folds than that after I write this down.
First, from the writer's perspective several years ago, you've seen rejection letter after rejection letter after no response at all. You're getting frustrated; you're getting older; you really want to have your book out there. So, you decide to self-publish. For good or bad, you're committed. You self-promote; you sell the book. What happens after that? You have to do it all over again, unless you're somehow lucky enough or your work is that amazing that a publisher picks it up. Would this happen? Maybe. Or maybe not. If I were a publisher, would I see A) this person's doing fine on their own, no reason for me to do anything, or B) this author is committed to the craft and would go on book tours (or jump off a cliff) if I asked them to do it, and maybe I should give them a shot? Then there's the reality that if your stuff was that good as to attract a publisher's attention, why didn't they offer you a book deal when you submitted in the first place? Maybe it's just not that good.
As for the second part, well, I've seen self-publishing work for some people; only two, really, from personal observation. I'm sure there are more of them out there, but once this boom goes full bore, I weep for the quality of work that will be out there. Gone will be the days of Dumas and Zola, Fitzgerald and Austen, Hugo and Dickens. In there place will be whole novels written in "text language" and actual full-length books filled with grammatical errors because someone is self-publishing and just ran out of money to have someone actually edit and proof their manuscript before clicking the "Publish" button on their computer screen.
In the end, don't we all self-publish when we write for our blogs? Some blogs and full on websites are created to market yourself and your writing. It is a form of marketing, but it's also a form of self-publishing. Didn't we get into this to stroke our own egos or rant about this and that? That's the royal "we" as I'm just as guilty as the next person. I may not have the guts to put my fiction out on my blog, but the blog is there to quiet the voices in my head by giving them a playground. Thousands of other bloggers do the same thing every day.
As for me, unless all the actual publishing houses close down, I'm still going to query like I have nothing to lose, because at this point, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Now I pose my question(s): Are houses going the self-publishing route because it will save them production costs? Will they rely on authors to pay the up-front costs of having the book edited, formatted, and what not, and only have to deal with marketing and actual printing expenses?
Joshua M. Carstens
>I actually don't think that the exclusivity and prestige of publishing is its primary draw or merit. I want to write because I love telling stories, and I hope someday to write books that other people can love. I'd also love to be able to make money off of writing. If self-publishing transforms so that there is actually a way for me to prove the quality of my books and reach a paying audience, I wouldn't have a problem with it. To me, getting published would be amazing, but having other people enjoy my books would be even more amazing.
I do worry about self-pubbed books, but I don't think they'll start flooding Barnes and Noble anytime soon. I don't think the Harlequin name on self-pubbed books will change much except that many authors will lose money trying to publish books rather than earn it from an advance or well-received book.
I wouldn't go that route, but if it's the wave of the future, I'm sure mechanisms will arise for readers to discover where the really good books are and find them among the chaff. Word of mouth, reviews, etc. will be (if anything) more important. I also doubt agents will disappear anytime soon.
>I say we wait and see how these official-looking self-published books sell. It could be no one wants them, or worse, they devalue the name of the publisher attached to them.
>I'm so sad about this. I will always be a reader first, writer second. I will be scouring book backs for indications of whether or not they are self-pubbed hereafter. Unless they come highly recommended, I'd never buy one. The exclusivity is good for everyone! Waaa!!
>I think you're exactly right about the readership and value. *shudder*
Writers can still come out on top, thanks to word of mouth. But as a reader, this really stinks. It already stinks when I buy a book and don't like it.
Supply and demand. More supply, less value. ( I think, didn't do too well in economics, lol)
I hope, hope, hope self-pubbing doesn't become the norm. *sigh*
>I was a bookseller, and I've had the experience…ahem, "priveledge"… of working with self-pubbed authors in person. I don't think they're a threat, no matter where they buy their products from. They took a huge amount of my time and effort, and here's what I learned:
1.) Business sense matters. For example, knowing the difference between a retail price and a wholesale price would make them a lot more competetive. You'd be stunned to know how many people print $14.95 on the book, and expect the bookstore to pay that. In a lot of cases, the only person who can make a profit selling the book is the author.
2.) Nice matters, too. I had New York Times bestselling authors who would come in, offer to buy me a cup of coffee, and then sit quietly and sign store stock all by themselves. Half the time, I didn't even have to bring those books to them. In contrast, a self-pubber frequently demands your FULL ATTENTION to the exclusion of everyone else, including the customers.
3.) Even if it were going to get shelf space (which it's not) and equal attention, Booksellers rely on repeat business. They know their customers, and they know when to say "no." For example, I'm not going to let that Christian-fic loving grandmother walk out of the store with hard-core erotica because the cover model "looks so pretty in her riding clothes." If I already know the customer will be angry with me later, I'm going to say something and go for the "Honest Bookseller" approach.
>This whole topic scares the poop out of me. I’m divided and I’ll tell you why.
About eight years ago I went to a SCBWI conference in LA. A self published author gave a speech about his rejection and self publication journey. Everyone applauded his tenacious spirit to fight for his book, and so did I, until I actually read it. There is a reason the literary world has gate keepers. The book was boring and didn’t speak to the audience. It needed a gate keeper.
Having said that, take a look at Twilight. Steven King and people like him have unabashedly slammed Ms. Meyer for her work. Are they right? I think some of them are (and I say that as a fan). It is poorly written in some places, there is a lot of dead time and large chunks that aren’t really necessary. However, the romance is a whole lot of fun. The Twilight romance became a cash cow, and I think that is the point; the bottom line.
It seems like literature is going toward a dark place. My B&N sold out whole sections of their floor space to children’s toys. (?) People aren’t reading and when they do it isn’t the kind that “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” if you know what I mean.
I with you Rachelle, but I’m more worried about our world and the fact that Americans aren’t reading well. What does that mean and how can we fix it. I’m going to blog about this because I have too much to say.
>I am not a big fan of self publishing. Though I can see its merits in the non fiction world, I feel like as an author it would devaluize (new word…and if I can self publish imagine all the new words I can make up!) me.
I agree with you. And as much as I'd love to self publish, if I were to do it, it would only be so I could share my work with my friends and family. It wouldn't be something I would be proud of.
>The gates have been thrown open. Readers have the power to sort, to screen, to buy or not buy. The public can filter what they read the same way they filter their news and their music.
As other have indicated, if it's not good, it ultimately won't do well. The problem with the old system is that "good" is in the eye of the beholder.
Agents' jobs will change, but they won't disappear. Literary agents, like real estate agents or insurance agents will compete to attract business. You can sell your house yourself or buy insurance online, but it's a lot more work and you either educate yourself or risk making a costly mistake.
Somehow, the big publishing companies existed with virtual monopolies for years. How the system lasted this long is the amazing part. The whole thing was contrary to the capitalist way of life. Our country was built on a man starting a company in his garage or selling a new product by going door to door. If he worked hard enough and people liked his product, his company grew.
The free enterprise system has finally come to publishing. Any writer who believes in her book can put it out there and a reader across the country can choose to buy it or not. If people like the book, it will succeed. If they don't, it will fail.
The great publishing castles are falling as the power shifts to the writers and the readers who built their empires. In the brave new world we become our own editorial board.
The hands that hold the mouse now rule the world — and that is as it should be!
>I recently had coffee with a self-published writer of Christian Young Adult. She showed me her books (which looked nice enough – good title, nice cover) and attempted to tell me how easy it was to self-publish. By the end of the conversation, I think she realized that she was trying to convince herself that she had done the right thing, not sell me on the idea. She told me horror stories of how the publisher kept getting her royalty statements wrong, she couldn't get anyone to call her back after the books were complete, and the brick and mortar book store managers wouldn't even talk to her about placing her book on their shelves.
The first two items could have been problems with that particular publisher, but the last item was the real problem.
I have no problem with self-promotion, but if I'm going to pour my heart and soul into years of studying the craft, learning the publishing industry and writing a compelling story, I hope to also have a team of people who are willing to stand behind my story as we work hard to get it on the right shelf and into the right hands. Self-publishing does not give you that team of people who are willing to insure the best product is produced.
Not all self-publishing houses are going to be the same, and I believe there are probably some books that self-publishing MIGHT be good for (The Shack), BUT I'm still going to read books that have made it through the traditional publishing system and I'm going to write books that one-day will go through that same system because I want to produce the best book I can.
Like you, I'm still forming my opinion, but that's where I am today. I don't think it will change much. Happy Friday!
>I agree with you 100%. While some self-pubbed authors simply have yet to get their chance, the majority of them simply haven't done their homework. Worse: most of those are too arrogant to admit they have homework to do. (I base these statements on my experience as Managing Editor of Christian Children's Book Review. We receive many, many self-published books and are rarely able to give them positive reviews.)
We NEED gatekeepers. If what I see from self-published authors gets into the mainstream without differentiation, readers will lose trust in publishers. In fact, I fear many (especially younger generations) will quit reading all together. If an entire generation stops buying books, what will the publishers say about money flow then?
>I agree, but I also think the REAL worry will be when traditional retailers (B&N, Borders) start carrying self-pubbed novels, especially if they are intermingled with traditionally published ones.
I totally understand why the publishers are doing this. It makes a lot of "business" sense, because the self-published authors have to pay the upfront costs for editing, production, etc, so there is really very little monetary risk for the publisher.
But, in the long run, if sales of all books go down because of the lack of quality in the whole bunch of them, then it could come back to bite them.
For me, I"d never even consider it. Not just for the $$ sake, but I've heard too many agents/editors say that the fact that an author has self-pubbed actually is a mark in the negative for them. I need as many marks in the positive, and as few in the negative, thank you very much!
>I agree with you on this topic.
First of all, as a reader, I want to see GOOD books in the bookstores. That's why I go. It's already hard enough to sift through the hundreds of books to find a good one, but just imagine how much harder that will be when stores start stocking self-published books? It will be nearly impossible to find the good literature that keeps me reading.
Secondly, as a writer, self-publishing makes me a little mad. Not the usual self-publishing, but these new self-publishing houses "with status". I agree with what you said about writing being exclusive. It's a privilege to be published; it's exciting. If ANYONE can write a book, writing becomes just as mediocre as working the fast food chain down the street. Although I have yet to publish a book, I appreciate the extensive process. It spurs me on as a writer to improve, and I look forward to the day someone sits back and says, "Wow. This is good."
With the self-publishing boom, I'm scared that publishers will look at my writing and say, "That's okay" and let it slide through the process. I'm not laboring for a book deal; I'm laboring to write the best book that I can write. Self-publishing loses that focus.
>When I was a kid, four schools joined together for a very special contest. It lasted all year, and 20 students from each grade were eligible to win an all expense paid trip to an amusement park. Free admission, souveniers, junk food, the whole thing. And all we needed to win a top spot was to have the highest grade point average. We worked like coal diggers for that prize. Every "B" grade was an opportunity to try harder and bring that average up! You've never seen a body of school kids care so much about every test, every pop quiz, every extra credit opportunity.
After the winners were announced at the end of the semester, someone got the bright idea of allowing all of the other kids a chance to go, too. All they had to do was pay their way in.
Suddenly, all that hard work didn't seem worth it any more. If we could just buy our way in, what had been the use?
I think you see my point. 🙂
>Totally agree. When I completed my first manuscript, my natural inclination was to go through the traditional publishing route, but many writer friends advised the self-publishing route. One good friend asked me what I wanted to get out of it.
The simple answer is validation. Getting a book published is tough and I believe that if I get my book published, then that will be a worthy achievement.
Self publishing says more about my ability to promote myself than my ability to write.
It is akin to blogging, wonderful for self publication, and seeing those visitors flock by (or not), but pales into insignificance when compared with the joy of getting a short story accepted by a paying magazine.
>I agree with you, Rachelle. But, I doubt these self-pubbed books will be on very many bookstore shelves because of limit of shelf space now in bookstores. Perhaps these new self-pubbed titles would dilute the value of traditionally pubbed authors via online sales? I do think I've read that more books are purchased online now, then bookstores, giving the self-pubbed writer an edge as far as advertising and promotion, which I find a chilling thought.
I've had a novel out with Harlequin, and I worked darn hard to get published – attending conferences, networking, learning the craft, getting rejected, etc. It just burns me up if somebody pops up today, pays their $$$ and days later says to me, "I'm published with Harlequin, too." Advertising their link to their new "published" book, and then the general public, who is generally clueless about publishing, sees this book online as "published by Harlequin" and not know the difference…then buys the book, thinks it's crap, and then decides not to buy anymore Harlequin books anymore!
Just wondering how this whole thing will pan out as far as internet sales goes and the general public. I'm assuming Harlequin has already thought this through and this isn't an issue for them? Me and other Harlequin authors have received correspondence from Harlequin about this, but I'm still upset! It's very disturbing for me! Thanks for letting me rant! These are my random thoughts/thinking aloud, too, so I'd like the option of changing my mind later, too! 🙂
>As a consumer, I don't have the time or money to separate the wheat from the chaff myself. I depend on both gatekeepers and word of mouth.
What's popular, of course, does not always have artistic merit (we need look no farther than the Macarena). Some part of what's popular will satisfy nothing other than our need to feel part of something big, but I want art, something that whispers to my soul. I am part of a market, and that market requires gatekeepers of some sort.
I've never bought a vanity- or self-published book (that I'm aware of). I browsed a few online (using Look Inside) way back when but stopped pretty quickly, after being so frequently distracted by poor typesetting, poor editing, poor craft, you name it, and I went back to the gatekeepers.
I'm sure there are gems out there that didn't use the gatekeepers, but I don't have the time to find them. Whoever finds them and tells me about them becomes, by definition, a gatekeeper. Even I become a gatekeeper by giving some word-of-mouth gatekeepers more weight than others.
Paper, computer screen, clay tablets, storyteller next to a campfire, it matters only a little to me. But I will spend my time and money on more than random shots in the dark.
Too many unrelated metaphors, I know, but does that make sense?
>Disclaimer: I have a vested interest. My company owns WestBow Press.
Personally, I think this is much to do about nothing. Shelf space is still at a premium. Self-published authors will not have easy access to that, any more than someone who produces a YouTube video will get their creation into a theater. I don't think we need to worry that bookstore shelves will be flooded with substandard books.
However, if someone has a specific platform, why should the gatekeepers (me, Rachelle, and retail buyers) keep them from getting into print. Self-publishing, vanity publishing, subsidy publishing are all simply options. They aren't right for everyone. But who should determine that? Agents? Traditional Publishers? The RWA?
I'm not saying this is true in your case, Rachelle, but I find it curious that most of the rants about this are coming from agents. Could it be because their business model depends upon authors having a difficult time getting published? In other words, what agents are primarily selling is *access* — access to publishers that would-be authors don't otherwise have. Take that away, and the need for an agent disappears or at least is greatly diminished.
I was an agent for seven years, so I know what it is like to sit on that side of the table. I think agents are going to re-evaluate what value they add to the supply chain and reinvent themselves—just as publishers and even authors are having to do.
The economy is changing. Technology is changing. Publishing business models are changing. We are only going to see more of this.
>As one or two others have suggested, I wonder if this issue has different short term and long term effects. The short term effects of a self-publishing boom could in fact lead to a flooding of the market with a lot of material that the reading public will find unworthy.
But that could create a backlash. In fact, it could bring more prestige to the "gatekeepers" — if the gatekeepers really do know how to find and promote the best works (and I think agents and publishers do have a great deal of expertise). Perhaps the role of agents and publishers will change; a big part of the slush pile of the future may be those self published books that are making modest or surprising sales.
There's something to be said for an author who is willing to shell out thousands of his or her own money and promote the book. It might be delusional (and probably often is), but it also might be the kind of passion that shows agents and publishers that this is an author who wants to connect with an audience and engage.
I write all of this as someone who is a reader and a newbie to the writing and publishing world, so I think the view of agents and traditional publishers is still very important because of the years of experience you've developed. You made some great points about self publishing devaluing the work of writers — but I have to say, this has been a process in the works long before publishing houses started developing self-publishing arms. The democratization of print and information thanks to technology means that words really are cheaper now. I think any author who wants to be a part of this process has to realize that.
The publishing world isn't the only industry to see the democratization of its processes. From higher education to the music and film industries, the spread and accessibility of knowledge and artistic production has meant that many more people are becoming involved in what used to be more exclusive activities. Democratization has its definite downsides, but it hasn't meant the disappearance of the elites (sure you can get a degree online, but isn't Harvard still respected?). What democratization ultimately means is that it's harder for everyone involved to be successful because there's more competition — harder for the big publishing firms (or big colleges or big record labels or big film studios), but also harder for the little guys. Sure, it's easier to say "I'm an author!" (or, I'm a college grad or I've made a record or I've made a film), but it's no easier to make a living from this. (It may even be more difficult.)
So, while I think change is coming, it doesn't have to mean the end of good books. It may mean the end of some publishing firms, and it will make things difficult for all involved in the production process. But the reader (are there any readers left, or have we all started writing? ;-D) will actually be the least negatively impacted because they'll have a less expensive product and more choice (though choice comes with its own set of difficulties).
Thanks for your thoughts on this! Very interesting discussion!
>It started with Thomas Nelson and the WestBow imprint. And now Harlequin. I find it confusing. I just don't know what I think yet.
I have only met one uppity agent. Not Rachelle.
Most that I have met become my friends, just not my agent so far.
I guess it depends on what the expectations are on the part of the writer.
>Rachelle–I think you are absolutely correct to look at the issue more from the vantage point of the reader than anyone else. As much as I would love to be a published writer, and am working diligently toward that end, I have decided to depend upon the industry (my agent, editors, and publishers) to act as an arbiter. If my writing never reaches a level at which a traditional publisher deems it ready and worthy to be published, so be it. I do NOT want to inflict my writing upon the reading public if it doesn't pass muster! I consider that an insult to the consumer, my potential audience.
Of course, there are exceptions. My family members are eagerly awaiting the book I'll be self-publishing about our Crazy LIttle Mama, for her relatives and our close friends only. Other than that, if I get the urge to self-pub? That's why God made blogs.
(I, too, reserve the right to change my mind. It's 5 am, and I've only had 2 sips of coffee.)
>Okay, just read a bunch of the anonymous posts…and I have to politely disagree.
You're searching for the wrong agents, people. The agents I've met along my journey have not been self-serving. They care about writers and they care about readers. That's why they're in the business!
Agents have to be selective. It seems people are confusing selectivity for "higher-than-though". They aren't the same thing. Being selective is smart and saavy. Being higher-than-though is prideful. And in my experience, I've never met any prideful agents.
Sorry, just haven't.
>I see your point generally… however, looks like (at least for the Harlequin dealy bopper thing), it's gonna cost somebody at least $599 to $1,599 to self publish– and though relatively cheap when compared to whatever else .. still that's a wad of cash (for me anyway). It will prohibit every Mary Alice Janine Bledsoe Smith from printing up a bunch of romantic hooey every day. Sure, there will be some junk out there as there is now.. but it will cost the girl (or guy) to do it. So that's one prohibitive factor that will help tamp the trash down I think.
I wouldn't pay it. I think a lot of people are turned off by paying out cash even for a book of their own. Some will do it.. but I think they're not going to do it over and over and over.. they simply can't afford it.
Now – on the other side.. Publishing houses. I think their motives are the thing to worry about. They are going to want to cut costs.. and they'd be willing to share those costs with the writer.. and the self publishing arms help them do that – like it or not. I actually think they are pushing for it while shooting themselves in the foot at the same time..
It's kind like a win win lose lose situation.
ebooks, self publishing arms, etc… it's all kind of disconcerting.
– but the story lives on.
>My muscles go all wonky when I think about all the what-ifs in the publishing industry these days. They get all looose and wobbly and my chest sort of starts to cave in just a little – especially with this self-publishing stuff.
Here's the thing. I. Don't. Like. Change. I will freely admit it. I don't like hearing that traditional publishers are opening up self-pubbed lines. Change makes me worry. It makes me get all freaked out. Especially (big time especially) when I'm a little confused on what the change means and a little positive that it's going to mess with something I love.
I think you expressed most of my fears. That the quality of books will go down. That anybody and their mother will be able to publish and readers won't know the difference, other than to say, "Jeesh, writers and publishers just don't know what they're doing anymore."
And here's another touchy point. I don't think anybody whose worked super hard for something (I mean, REALLY hard) likes to see other people reach the same place (or pass them by!) via short cut. It rankles.
So I do. I do have anxiety swirling inside me around all this changes, toward all these new self-pubbing options. I'm very prone to what-ifs. The only thing I can do to get over them is write them in my prayer journal and ask God to give me a heart of peace and love (even for those authors who pass me by, riding on the self-pubbed train).
Here's my major question…aren't these publishers at all worried that the consumer will doubt/question their credibility if they start publishing all these books they wouldn't otherwise publish?
>Rachelle: So many of us are thankful to you for your dedication to helping all of us writers. I hope you continue to have some kind of job in publishing where you can keep up those kind efforts. I truly believe traditional publishing is collapsing like the once powerful Soviet Union. Sharon said you have fears…they've probably only begun.
>It is so sad to have to write that I agree with anon 1:32 and anon 2:42. I don't want to seem angry or nasty.
What is about to happen is "Power to the people" and away with the self-serving agents who would rather sell a bad book that would make them $5000, than to sell a book that would truly help millions of people, but make them only $4000, if that were a possible scenario.
Recently, my wife showed me a book by a poular "Christian" author. It was produced to appear as a normal 60,000 word work, but was less than 20,000 words. I though it was so tricky, and just after people's $$$$. Soon, people will have many more CHOICES, yet agents will find their POWER disappearig like a puff of smoke.
>I think the cream will rise to the top, too, no matter who or how it's published. I'm not too concerned about self-published books.
>It's going to make it so good for consumers: word of mouth will make1000's of big-sellers that otherwise would have never been published.
You admit that in the past most of agents book's are failures, selling only a few 1000 copies. Agents pass on most of the great books; until one finally helps the author.So, probably in a year agents will have to serve customers better rather than acting so much higher-than-thou.
>Although I think your fears around self-publishing have some merit, I have to say that I am not as confident in the traditional publishing system as you seem to be. Yes, many authors do go through a rigorous screening process, and I suppose there is some merit in the Protestant work-ethic of 'trial by humiliation'. Many good writers work hard at their craft, and are never accorded the success or status of writers like Meyers or Rowling. They do not capture the right attention, or fire the right imagination, or find the right agent to help direct their efforts (even harder in Canada, where there are very few agents).
I contacted the new self-publishing division of Harlequin, on spec and without expectation. I had an email within an hour, and a phone call within three hours. I spoke to a nice lady who has me on file as 'interested, but not yet ready to move forward'. We'll see how much spam I receive, having given them my information.
You have to admit, that is an improvement on the typical "Don't call us – at all" attitude of most publishing businesses.
I have read self-published and promoted fanfiction for several years, studying a world-wide phenomenon which has many detractors. Yes, much of it is poorly written, with no plot and less writing skill. Some of it is extraordinary: lyrical, accomplished writing that shines through the millions of books remaindered in the local supermarket bins. People write fanfiction for many, many reasons, and some of us write to practice our skills, to improve our craft, and to share our work with others, trusting them to volunteer honest feedback and benefiting from their generosity.
I think of self-publishing in much the same way. When I lecture about 'publishing online' (a field growing so fast I need to completely re-write my presentation every term), I usually counsel the fiction-writers to explore the traditional channels, unless they are writing in the science-fiction or romance fields, which are far more open to e-publication. Some 'literature' (although I question the term) is better served through that path, and will probably continue to be, as long as the traditional publishing houses stay technologically relevant and keep up with the medium (ie release their books in e-formats).
Still, Dickens wrote his novels in serialization form, at pennies per word, and used to kill someone off or bring in a new character if the kids needed shoes, or a story was extremely popular. Shakespeare would add scenes and speeches because certain actors were popular and demanded their time on the stage. Stephen King wrote stories for antibiotic money when his kids had ear infections. Yesterday's pulp fiction sometimes becomes tomorrow's 'literature', and vice versa: only time will tell whether Philip Pullman is right in saying his Dark Materials series will outlive Rowlings' Harry Potter.
Long answer, but your entry hit a nerve. As a reader, I don't need a gatekeeper. I can decide for myself not to read any one of the dozen books recently published which rip off Jane Austen (although Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was mildly amusing for the first three pages). I am capable of finding reading material I enjoy in numerous places on the net, and of reading it on my phone, my iPod, or my computer. The publishing business is going to have to move to meet the consumer, just as the music business has.
Have to second what you say — one of my friends reviews books from primarily small presses and self published books. While there are some gems (as I'm sure there will be in Hh), there are many many more that are self-confessed "not edited" dreck that I wonder she has the patience.
I think this idea that "everyone deserves to get their book published" is fallacious and insulting to both the good, hard-working writers and more importantly to the readers.
Everyone can open their mouth and make a noise. Not all of us deserve to stand in the Royal Opera House and sing to a paying public.
>R, I wouldn't worry too much. As they say, the cream rises to the top and if a self-pubbed book becomes a hit, then they deserve their success. But if even a "vetted" book fails to sell 5,000 copies, then there's not that much competition anyway.
Maybe agents need to be more open-minded and not act like lemmings trying to follow the trends. (YA, anyone?)
>I really appreciate your thoughts here Rachelle – my gut says you're right. I look at it from my marketing background – exclusivity and the sense of belonging to an 'elite' (or at least, heavily restricted) community will be lost.
That said, I think readers will learn this. It make take a few years, but eventually people will start screaming for a warning. I suspect traditional publishers will develop some kind of brand or 'club' logo that identifies them because READERS will look for this.
It's akin to the pet food debacle a couple of years ago – who used to read labels on petfood? Yet, when Chinese made products started poisoning pets, suddenly America started reading labels to find out where the product came from.
Okay, so maybe it's not a perfect analogy, but you catch my drift…