Where the Money Comes From

Ever since last month when the publishing world erupted in a brouhaha about Harlequin and Thomas Nelson entering the business of self-publishing, I’ve been watching the reports, reading the blogs and mulling this over. It took me awhile to identify what was really bothering me about all of this. But I finally figured it out. There are two issues that are making me uncomfortable with big traditional publishers opening up to self publishing, beyond the things I’ve brought up in my previous posts.

1. Self publishing’s NOT a great idea for fiction authors.

Non-fiction books on specific topics that have a built-in audience or subculture are much easier to sell than fiction. You can have a blog and website that attracts people who want the information you’re sharing. You may have speaking engagements through which you’ll sell books.

But fiction is different. It’s not about the information being shared, it’s about the story. And book-buyers are far less willing to take a risk on a story that nobody except the author has endorsed.

Readers generally trust the publishing and bookselling process. While they know they’re not going to enjoy every published book, at least they have the assurance that somebody likes it, if the book made it to the shelves of Barnes & Noble.

With a self-published book, a reader has no such assurance. Only the author thinks it’s good. For most readers, this is not enough of an endorsement, so they’re unwilling to spend good money on a self-published novel.

There are always going to be a FEW authors who find success selling their self-pubbed fiction online. They’re savvy promoters; they spend a lot of time in online networking. And they usually write in specific genres that tend to create subcultures or a cult-like following: fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural. But the reality is, that kind of self-pub success with fiction is rare.

So in general, I don’t recommend the self-publishing route to fiction authors, but it looks to me like that’s exactly who the folks at WestBow (Thomas Nelson) and Horizons (Harlequin) seem to be targeting.

But here’s the main thing that bugs me about large publishers entering the self-pub business:

2. It’s a seismic shift in the business model of traditional publishing.

We all know publishers are businesses and they need to make a profit in order to stay alive. The business model of publishers has always been to make money from READERS. That’s the bottom line. Readers pay their twenty bucks (not a huge investment) for a tangible product – a book. And an intangible – a reading experience. They’ll either like a book or they won’t. Either way, they’re only out their $20.

But self-publishing is different. This is a business whose bottom line is to make money from WRITERS. And that opens up a whole can of worms, because it’s no longer about $20. And it’s no longer about simply purchasing a product, knowing you might like it or you might not. Instead it’s about a writer’s lifetime of hopes and dreams. It’s about expectations that are often unrealistic. And it’s about laying down a chunk of money that’s anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, with little chance of recouping it.

I think the switch from making money off of readers to making money off of writers is huge. It sells hopes and dreams more than it does a tangible product. It opens up the possibility of exploitation, even if the publisher’s intent is not to exploit but simply to increase bottom line and keep their doors open while giving writers want they want. The whole thing makes me a tad uncomfortable.

And yet…

It’s no secret… literary agents make money from writers, not from readers. We make a living by helping writers reach their goals, and being compensated with a percentage of what the writer makes. On the back end of a deal, there may be some income generated because readers bought the book, but generally, we make money from writers. I acknowledge this because I don’t want it to look like I have my head in the sand. Agents and self-publishers both make money from writers.

But self-publishers can make no promises to authors about any success likely to result. Agents, on the other hand, only get paid after a result: a sale to a publisher. Agents don’t sell just hopes and dreams; we sell results.


My thoughts here are purely philosophical. I’m not calling for publishers to stop the self-pubbing, since I understand the world is changing and business models need to change. I’m simply identifying the things that have been niggling at me. Most of all, I’m concerned about writers. Both of the points above are bugging me because they have the potential to mislead writers, to encourage them to part with large amounts of money, to feed their publishing dreams, when dreams of having thousands of people read their work might be unrealistic.

So here’s where I stand on self-publishing at this moment:

Non-fiction authors: As long as you can sell your work and you can afford the time and money it takes to self-publish and sell your work, I say, go for it.

Fiction authors: My advice is to stay away unless you go into it with very little risk and you are sure you can sell your books. (If money is no object, or your main goal is simply to publish enough books to share with friends and family, this doesn’t apply.)

I’m sure my thoughts will continue to evolve as things continue to change. What do YOU think?


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. JFBookman on December 29, 2009 at 6:42 PM

    >Carol J. Garvin said:
    As for those in self/vanity/subsidy-publishing who dislike being lumped together into one category, arguing the semantics doesn't alter the facts. While some of those companies may be more ethical than others, and the services provided may vary a bit, the end result is the same — the writer pays money to be published. Period. Why does it matter what we call it?

    The difference is in one case you pay a publisher to publish your book. You pay for a service. It may be a good deal, it may be a bad deal, you may be sorry later.

    In the other case YOU are the publisher, and you pay a printer to produce a product for you. You are in business, you pay for product development, manufacturing, marketing in the hope of showing a profit.

    Those don't seem like the same things to me. These are real distinctions, not semantics.

  4. steeleweed on December 28, 2009 at 9:40 AM

    >I don't buy traditionally-published books because they have been vetted by editors/publishers. I buy because that's all the bookstores have. If self-pubs could market to me, I'd buy based on the same criteria I use in B&N or Amazon – how likely am I to like the book. The real problem is self-pub is marketing. Mainstream publishers have a captive market – bookstores. Self-Publishers need to find a way to reach readers effectively. Now that more folks are buying online, the playing field is gradually being leveled and I think mainstream houses realize it – and that it bodes ill for them. In another 10 years, 90% of book sales will be online. I love browsing B&N/Dalton, and Indies. As a reader, I will not like the future. As a writer, I will put my money bet on the future.

    I wouldn't object to mainstream publishers founding any side businesses that might shore up their bottom line. They should be free to open shoe stores, set TVs, whatever. I have a problem with their ethics in passing their slush piles to their vanity subsidiaries.

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  6. Carol J. Garvin on December 25, 2009 at 7:33 PM

    >I'm 100% with Rachelle and Anonymous 10:41 on this.

    As for those in self/vanity/subsidy-publishing who dislike being lumped together into one category, arguing the semantics doesn't alter the facts. While some of those companies may be more ethical than others, and the services provided may vary a bit, the end result is the same — the writer pays money to be published. Period. Why does it matter what we call it?

  7. David Alton Dodd on December 22, 2009 at 5:39 PM

    >This is a very good entry, and I agree with you. I think that all fiction writers should heed this advice.

    However, I disagree about where agents make their money. Ultimately, agents make their money from readers. Sure, the initial advance and possible royalty percentage make money, but really, don't all agents target writers who will sell more than one book? In order for that to happen, the reader is the most important aspect.

  8. Tamika: on December 22, 2009 at 1:33 PM

    >I think I still want you to be my agent one day!

  9. Anonymous on December 22, 2009 at 12:41 PM

    >Good point, last Anon. As long as authors know exactly what they're getting into and pubs are honest and up-front, then they are *consenting adults* so to speak. If they promise the moon and try to deceive wannabe writers, then that's fraud and theft in my book.

  10. Anonymous on December 22, 2009 at 11:00 AM

    >My thoughts here are purely philosophical. I'm not calling for publishers to stop the self-pubbing, since I understand the world is changing and business models need to change.

    I don't believe people have to do bad things just because things change. I believe it's possible to maintain your virtue and honesty even when things get tough. That's not what TN and Harlequin are doing. They're tossing off their integrity and using deception to make money, with no thought toward the people they're taking the cash from.

    I'm an atheist, and it disgusts me to see a company like TN who claims to be "Christian" taking advantage of authors. I have to remind myself not to paint all of your religion with a broad brush when I see people like them deciding money is more valuable than honesty and integrity. I don't make money by deceiving people. Why is it okay for them to?

  11. Steve on December 22, 2009 at 3:15 AM

    >This makes me think of the days of the Gold Rush. Some prospectors struck it rich. Many lost everything. The people who consistently made money were those in the business of selling supplies and loaning out grubstakes.

    I think we're seeing this in the music industry already. Only a few bands are making it big, but guitar shops are flourishing.

    Not saying I advocate this kind of asetup, but it appears to be how things work.


  12. JFBookman on December 22, 2009 at 2:29 AM


    Thank you for a thoughtful post and a clear analysis. Along with Michael Marcus above, I agree that it would help all around if people could pay a little more attention to the language we use about these companies and their products. "Self-publishing company" is in itself an oxymoron.

    Anyway, I couldn't agree more with your final recommendations. It's worthwhile to note that, like all ethical professionals who sell services to self-publishers, I make certain up front that my clients have a clear understanding of the risks and how to minimize them before they ever start on their project.

    Over the years I've helped writers self-publish many books, and the nonfiction authors who have worked at it have generally done at least okay. Novelists, on the other hand have generally done poorly.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing, if they are realistic about their project and want to do it anyway. The "lure of the book" as an object is very strong for some people, and they get a corresponding amount of satisfaction out of creating a wonderful product, whether anyone buys it or not.

    What really interests me is the form that the publishing industry will take as we go through this difficult and confusing process. Now that's fascinating.

  13. Lynnette Kraft on December 22, 2009 at 1:23 AM

    >Hi Rachelle. I'm not sure how I found you tonight, but I'm glad I did. Looks like you have a lot of useful information on here.

    I'll have to stroll around and see what I can glean from your past posts.

    Come and visit my blog when you get a chance. I'd love to have you for a visit.

    Blessings to you!
    Dancing Barefoot on Weathered Ground

  14. Kristan on December 21, 2009 at 7:21 PM

    >Fabulous post. Your thoughts are well informed and well explained. As a writer, I really appreciate your expert views on this.

    Fave line:

    "Agents don't sell just hopes and dreams; we sell results."

    (Because it's so true.)

  15. Fred on December 21, 2009 at 6:25 PM

    >I found this topic very interesting as I had my first novel self-published. I have nothing to say bad about the publisher as I got everything I paid for. And that is also the problem. It cost a lot of money and in the end my book didn't sell big because all the marketing was done by me. I could have bought more marketing tools, but I wised up and didn't. My second novel I went to a more traditional publisher but without an agent. I now realize that a good agent would have been good for me.
    I disagree that you agents are making money off the writers. I get the point that your money comes out of our royalties, but the way I see it you are bringing me (the author) and the publisher together. You are performing a valuable service for both. So I take a middle road and say you are making money off both of us. (The truth is that the author probably would not get that big contract and the publisher may not have gotten the opportunity to have a best seller.)
    So my next novel I will be contacting you!

  16. james on December 21, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    >Rachelle, You are correct so let me re-phrase.

    It is a big deal that the industry is changing. That is for sure. New technology will be bring changes. There will be new winners as well as those that can adapt and survive. It happens in all industries.

    My comment was based on the fact that writers now have options that were not available a few years back. Does it really matter which direction they choose?

  17. Rachelle on December 21, 2009 at 3:25 PM

    >James and everyone else who's asking "What's the big deal?" or "Why do agents care?"

    The big deal is that the publishing industry is changing, delivery methods are changing, people's reading habits are changing, and the options for authors are expanding. Agents write about all these changes because it's important to keep on top of them, as well as try to consider them from all angles. We invite discussion so we will understand people's attitudes and beliefs rather than simply spout our own opinions.

    And personally, I write to inform and engage WRITERS about developments that can directly affect them.

    Big deal? As far as I can tell: yes.

  18. james on December 21, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    >I have been following this deabte on several blogs and it is quite fascinating. Whether an author feels compelled to pay to get published or wait for an agent whats the big deal?
    Within a few short years the E-book market will be the dominate force. As this shift takes place, books will become much cheaper and easier to produce and market.
    What happens then?

  19. Timothy Fish on December 21, 2009 at 2:09 PM

    >Kid Zone Audrey,

    It’s been a couple of years since I have had personal experience with the technology, but my experience and what I have heard is that POD technology is simply not competitive with offset printing for color printing. I published a book of photos through a POD company a few years ago. I only needed three copies and it met my needs, but I would never consider POD as a means to produce a book for sale until the technology improves. However, for black and white printing, POD technology produces a higher quality product than what is typically produced using offset printing.

  20. LynnRush on December 21, 2009 at 2:04 PM

    >Great post. Lots of diverse comments too. It's a touchy topic, that's for sure.

    But, alas, I am not a publisher, so I will go the traditional route, and if it happens for me, it happens. If not, I will continue on writing my stories and that'll be enough for me.

  21. Anne Lang Bundy on December 21, 2009 at 1:43 PM

    >EXCELLENT post on self-pubbing, Rachelle. You've concisely covered the bases nicely.

  22. Aimee LS on December 21, 2009 at 1:14 PM


    From what I can tell, there are two kinds of books that get published 'traditionally':

    1) An amazingly compelling story that perhaps needs a lot of work in the technicalities of writing, but agents/ publishers can see their efforts are worthwhile in helping the author achieve a professional product.

    2) A good / great story from a really good writer who could make my cat's vomit sound poetic. Agents / publishers don't have to work as hard because the author has got the chops, so it's really just a matter of refining.

    In both cases you've got either a top 2% concept, or a top 2% product ALREADY – before a traditional publisher puts anything down.

    Not everyone can be in the top 2% of anything. There's 100 points on the scale.

    Even if you leave out the marketing aspect, people who are paying for their books to be published WITHOUT the last refining eye of an agent / editor who's savvy about those top 2%, then you aren't producing one of those products.

    Full stop.

    Publish away if you want to, but don't fool yourself.


    Anyone who's followed the forward-thinkers in marketing / branding in the last five years will tell you the most effective form of marketing right now is word of mouth.

    People trust other people who don't have any reason to be invested in the product.

    It takes longer to build a following, but it develops advocates who sell for you (as opposed to customers who simply buy once). If you have a top product: marketing schmarketing.

  23. Rebecca Knight on December 21, 2009 at 1:07 PM

    >I 100% agree with Andrew on this one.

    For those saying that the sub/vanity presses have an interest in keeping their existing customers happy by selling, think of it this way. Most of the vanity publishers' business models are based off the idea that it's better to make $100 off a million people, than to make a thousands of dollars off a few well-treated authors.

    There will always be new hopeful writers–after all, how many of us have heard the phrase "everyone has a book in them?" This is a hit and run business model, much like the companies that sell something they know won't work, but make it difficult for you to get your money back (enzyte.)

    There will always be more people wanting to use their services, because hope is abundant. It is preying on those who don't know better, and it makes me sad :(.

  24. T. Anne on December 21, 2009 at 12:58 PM

    >Such a meaty topic for the Monday before Christmas! But I do believe your words are true. I'm sad for those who have to learn the hard way, but I also do know how hard it is to get published and respect the decisions of others. I'm holding fast to the traditional route.
    Now, if you get a chance, hop around the blogosphere and enjoy those kissing scenes out there in honor of mistletoe 😉 I'd be totally fine if you started with mine 😉

  25. Tamara Hart Heiner on December 21, 2009 at 12:47 PM

    >you said this very well. It hits it right on the nose.

  26. Livia on December 21, 2009 at 12:43 PM

    >That was a really insightful post. Thanks!

  27. Carol Benedict on December 21, 2009 at 12:43 PM

    >I agree with the comment Timothy Fish made. Other businesses promote their product without being required to prove that the buyer will make money with it, or that it will fulfill their needs. All publishers should be required to fulfill the terms of the contract, but beyond that, it's a case of buyer beware–just like with everything else in business.

    For example, I own a trucking business and buy trucks because I believe I can make money with them. I tell the salesman what I want, and if he has a truck that fits what I'm looking for, I buy it. It's then up to me to find work for that truck. Some trucking companies can't earn enough to stay in business, others make a modest profit, and some make lots of money. No one blames the truck manufacturer for not meeting the trucking company's expectations. I don't think it's fair to blame vanity presses for not meeting the expectations of the writers who buy their product.

  28. Anonymous on December 21, 2009 at 12:41 PM

    >Andrew–great analogy about politics! Too bad that many potential leaders will never run for politics cuz they're not rich or cut-throat enough. To me, it's a case of greed vs. vanity: Publishers/agents want to make money, writers want to see their work in print. What's wrong with paying to get a novel published if that's your ultimate dream and all agents can say is no? The marketplace will determine its success–and the amateur will be satisfied at last.

    If the writing is really that bad, why do agents or pubs care about missing out on these books? Let them see the light of day!

  29. Kid Zone Audrey on December 21, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    >What a dilema I find myself in this morning. I am that person so many of these comments are about… I've written and illustrated a children's book, "Huxley and the Caterpillar Castle". Yes, it is my life's dream; Yes, I devoted two years to it's writing, illustrating and editing process; Yes, I believe it to be an awesome, inspiring, beautifully illustrated masterpiece befitting the times we live in. Meant to encourage children back out into nature/outdoor play and away from television and video games while not being preachy. It is interactive giving children an opportunity to discover the creatures and various types of flora and fauna throughout the pages. Okay, so that's the "good stuff".

    After receiving my share of seemingly "gentle rejections" from agents, I began the painful search for a reputable self publisher. I made my choice based on their "100%money back guarantee", and an assurance that we would have a book in time for the holiday marketing season. This a seemingly "major" and "reputable" company. Yes, I do have a book. Four author's proofs later, I am about to make the phone call to request 100% of my money back. The printing/color has been a disaster from the first proof telling me that quality control is of no importance to these folks. I could have done better using my laser jet in the studio. Desperate for a bit of advice from ANYONE, I am putting myself out there…before I make the phone call.

  30. Timothy Fish on December 21, 2009 at 11:27 AM


    I don’t think anyone would disagree and say that subsidy presses don’t exploit the emotional investment authors have in their work. I suppose the underlying question we should address is whether that is wrong. If we apply the same standards that we apply to other businesses, we must conclude that in and of itself, it isn’t wrong to exploit a person’s emotional investment in order to sell a product or service. No one seems to have a problem with Hallmark’s slogan, When you care enough to send the very best. So, then we have to ask the question of whether the product or service subsidy presses provide is worth what they charge. If we remove the emotional aspect that makes us want to say, “traditional publishers don’t charge for that, so subsidy presses shouldn’t either,” the fact is that what most subsidy presses charge is right in line with what we would expect to pay if we went out and hired individuals to do the same work.

    We simply cannot claim that subsidy presses are only interested in new customers. They are well aware that they will go out of business if they don’t keep the backdoor closed. They want repeat customers and to that end, many communicate with their authors through e-mail, through webinars and other means to tell them of ways that they can increase their book sales. While all methods do not work for all authors, they are not writing off their existing authors.

    It translates into more cost to the author, but some of these subsidy presses are actively promoting their authors in much the same way that traditional publishers are promoting their authors.

  31. JDuncan on December 21, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    >My biggest problem with van/sub pubs is they rely on customers not having realistic expectations. I always hear this justification that writers have a choice. It's their decision to blow hundreds or thousands of dollars to publish. Problem it, it's rarely an informed decision. These publishers certainly aren't going explain to their potential customers just how likely it is they won't make their money back. What sort of business is it that says, "We charge for a product you are almost guaranteed to lose money on." So, they are selling hopes and dreams, which sounds an awful lot like a con to me.

    Self-publishing is a different animal. What you put into it is your choice for the most part. You can freelance every aspect of it. You can negotiate prices. And while it is certainly easy to track down the needed resources and find the best deals to publish your book, it still leaves the problem all the aspects beyond the simple creation of the book. Promo, marketing, publicity, word of mouth, are all central to any kind of success in publishing, and going it on your own is almost impossible. Like Rachelle and most other pros in the industry will tell you, success is extremely difficult in publishing. The odds of making it in any significant way are slim. Like it or not, mainstream publishing is still the best avenue if you don't have the money and/or knowledge to try it on your own, which is the situation the vast majority of fiction writers find themselves in. Your far better off to keep plugging away at your writing and trying to improve your craft.

    For those out there considering places like Westbow and DelleArt and other businesses of their ilk, remember this. They are not vested in your success. They make their money off of the writer upfront. Sure they'll make money off of royalties from any sales you might garner, but they don't expect much return here. They've already profited and are quite happy with that arrangement. They know the market can't support the amount of published material out there already. The reader base just isn't there. So put your focus and money where it will do the most good. Write a better story.

  32. Andrew on December 21, 2009 at 11:02 AM


    Your comments are spot-on. Money can trump talent.

    Look at politics – it takes a considerable personal fortune to be able to run for a governorship, or congress. You essentially have to take a sabbatical from your day job (if you need one) to campaign, and you also need to attract rich supporters to get a financially viable campaign off the ground (and just try making rich friends if you are not rich yourself!).

    The results speak for themselves. One-third of our government, the legislative branch, is considered collectively less trustworthy than used car salesmen, and is seen as incompetent.

    The bad thing there is that in politics we are usually choosing between two rich morons. In publishing, we have considerably more leeway!

  33. Andrew on December 21, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    >Somehow the comments seem to have shifted from subsidy publishers to self-publishing, which can be quite different.

    Or maybe not – because the writer who goes with a subsidy publisher is really on her/his own in many ways. There is usually a minimal marketing effort, and all that the author has in the end is a book with a publisher's name on the spine…and the option to buy copies for themselves at a steep discount.

    Seems to me you could do that at Kinko's.

    I think that the subsidy press industry is cruel and exploitative. It takes advantage of the emotional investment that writers have in their work, and uses that to build a profitable business model based on selling no copies whatsoever. Sure, they make money if the books sell. But their bottom line is attracting more authors to generate more sure profit, NOT working with the ones they have to reach their potential.

    As for not being able to succeed long-term if they are just fleecing their customers (writers)…

    The writer who invests $5-10k with a subsidy publisher is not likely to publicly eat humble pie by saying, "I was an idiot, and gave these crooks my life savings for nothing."

    I agree that we should get real. The subsidy publisher is looking to make money off YOU, the author, by taking advantage of the commitment you've made to your work, in both time and emotion.

    That's their business plan, that's their profit, and that's exploitation.

  34. Cam Snow on December 21, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    >Here is why I don't see what all the Broohaha is about. Two examples:

    1) My name is Bob, and I make 250k and I have lots of extra cash. I like writing books, but I really suck at writing (or maybe you just don't get my writing – whatever). I put out my eBook on Amazon/B&N.com/Smashwords etc. But, I want to see it on paper, with some cheesy cover art so when my other friends come over for wine and cheese I want to be able to point to my book and say, "You can pick up a copy on Amazon." I don't care if it costs me $1500 b/c it is worth it to stroke my ego.

    Self/vanity publishing works for me – I am master of my own universe and don't have to waste time querying Rachelle. (or waste her time reading my crap)

    2)My name is Dan Myers-Grisham and I write novels about teenage lawyer vampires that hunt for religious relics, and my books are soooo freaking awesome I think I can go hype myself and sell 10 billion copies (everyone on the planet will like it so much they'll buy 2 copies). I am willing to RISK a chunk of my money to prove this. If it fails, then I learned my lesson and will query Rachelle next time.

    Self-publishing probably won't work for me, but I'm a business man and I think I have a great product, so I'll try it. If it fails I can go live in my van. No harm done.

    3) My name is Cam (really, this is me). I like to write fiction, and I want to be published. I'm also want my ego stroked, but I don't want to pay $1500 for it. I don't think I'm the next Tom Clancy, but I think my writing is good enough to get published. Luckily I have the internet and 1/2 a brain (well, maybe a whole one) so I know that self/vanity publishing IS NOT for me. (I've not yet queried Rachelle b/c I'm doing some heavy editing right now).

  35. Timothy Fish on December 21, 2009 at 10:16 AM


    Let's keep it real here. First, we aren't talking about major league sports. Most self-published authors who sell a lot of books still go into the "major leagues" by either signing a contract with a traditional publisher or opening their own publishing house. As for singers, many do pay to get on stage, paying their own way going from church to church, hoping that the love offering the church takes up will pay enough to cover their expenses. As for the cost of self-publishing a book, the starting price is $0 (zero dollars). Anything you add to that is just improvements on the product and the cost of promotion, but you're going to be paying for that with the traditional publishing route anyway.

  36. Rachelle on December 21, 2009 at 10:08 AM

    >Thanks, everyone, for the good thoughts! It's interesting to ponder the ways publishing is changing and all the different viewpoints about it. I appreciate your chiming in.

  37. Renee Pinner on December 21, 2009 at 9:57 AM

    >Imagine if athletes had to pay to play in the NBA, NHL or NFL. I wonder how competitive the games would be if only the richest got to play, not the most silled or talented. I doubt those games would be on cable television.

    What if singers and actors had to pay to get on stage? Would it be that the talents of William Hung would become more representative of the norm than not?

    I'd hate to go down in history as the most successful (prolific) of novelists not because of my talent, but because I could afford to print more than the competition.

    So many writers already make the argument that because of the commercial approach of publishing true QUALITY writing struggles to see daylight. If the dominant model of publishing goes to self-publishing and vanity presses our national little recession will likely be followed by an new dark age.

  38. Mira on December 21, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    >Thank you for laying this out so clearly. You answered alot of questions I had about the Harlequin news.

    Really appreciate your post, and the way that you explored the issues. You didn't make anyone a 'bad guy', but you pointed out some serious concerns. Thanks you.

  39. Shmologna on December 21, 2009 at 9:28 AM

    >You know…

    I'm a writer. I'm a dreamer. I'm a eater of cookies and hiker of hills.

    One thing I am NOT is a publisher.

    So the whole idea of "self publishing" just puts me off anyway.

  40. Sarah Forgrave on December 21, 2009 at 9:21 AM

    >I appreciate these thoughts, Rachelle. In my short time here in the writing world, I've come to a similar conclusion regarding self-publishing non-fiction versus fiction.

    At a local writing conference I attended recently, I met a lady who proudly said she was published. Turned out she had self-published a fiction book through what I consider a vanity publisher. When I got home, I looked up her book on Amazon and read the first few pages. It was full of major flaws and I struggled to get through it. She was proud of selling 300-some copies, but my heart broke for her because she had paid out $5,000 and would never see it again.

  41. Matilda McCloud on December 21, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    >I would agree with you, except maybe with poetry. I work for a POD printer and we have a number of clients who are poets and they do come back for reprints because they sell their books at poetry readings etc. The self-pubbed fiction, however, usually doesn't come back for a reprint. Non-fiction sometimes does well, but the author has to hustle to sell any copies. We had one big self-pub to traditional pub fiction success story, but in 10 years that was the only one.

  42. Timothy Fish on December 21, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    >Judith Mercado,

    I addressed your question a few weeks ago in A World Without Thomas Nelson.

  43. Andrea on December 21, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    >Merry Christmas and GOD BLESS!

  44. Timothy Fish on December 21, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    >I believe it is inaccurate to suggest that just because subsidy presses make money by selling to writers they are not interested in the success of writers. Here are a few things to consider:

    1) Subsidy presses make a profit on every book sold. While subsidy presses rely on writers to cover the risk of publishing a book, their profit margin would look a whole lot better if every author sold several thousand books. Even if the subsidy press cares nothing for the writers, that is incentive enough to encourage them try to sell the product.

    2) The writer is the customer. Any businessman interested in long term profit knows better than to fleece the customer. The subsidy press is selling a dream. Perhaps that dream is unrealistic, but the subsidy press must nurse that dream and keep it alive or it will lose business. There is a lot of competition out there. Unlike with a traditional publisher, were a writer is considered lucky to be considered by even one publisher, if the writer is unhappy with what the subsidy press is doing to support him, he can go somewhere else. With the next book he may go to a different subsidy press, he might print a bunch of books and store them in his garage, or he might even go to a traditional publisher.

    3) Traditional Publishing has more failures than self-publishing. When we compare Traditional Publishing to Self-publishing, we are usually comparing apples to oranges. We tally the books sold in each category, divide by the total books published by each and it appears that Traditional Publishing is a more sure path to success. But if we are truly interested in the success of writers and not publishing companies, shouldn’t we instead tally the books sold and divide by the number of writers in each category? If we take all writers into account, not just those with traditional publishing contracts, the typical Traditional Publishing author has nothing more than a manuscript that no one will publish, while the typical self-published author has a book in hand that no one will buy.

    4) Market algorithms drive success. While it used to be that customers relied on publishers to provide good content, it is becoming more and more the case that customers are relying on market driven algorithms. Visit an online bookstore and the books listed at the top are not those suggested by publishers or reviewers, but are those that are selling the most. While it isn’t easy to get a book to that level, the playing field is much flatter than it used to be.

  45. Judith Mercado on December 21, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    >Here’s a question to ponder. What if in the changing publishing business model, a new variant emerges in which the principal players are not the writer, agent, publisher, and readers but the self-published writer, author-hired marketing guru/publicist, and the readers. I don’t bring this up because I support this shift, but because, given the ease of publishing granted by the vanity presses, Amazon, the internet et al., this could turn into a viable model, even for fiction writers. It would not bode well for agents, of course, unless they also shifted their business model. Just a thought.

  46. christa on December 21, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    >Are retail bookstores going to open themselves to carrying these books?

  47. Michael on December 21, 2009 at 8:28 AM

    >>>But self-publishing is different. This is a business who's bottom line is to make money from WRITERS.<<

    You are combining and confusing self-publishing with vanity publishing.

    I am a writer. My first book was published by Doubleday in 1976. Last year I formed my own publishing company. That makes me a self-publisher. I pay money to editors, designers, photographers, printers and others. I do not pay money to a vanity publisher.

    When I am working on a book, money flows away from me. When the books are published, money starts flowing back to me.

    My self publishing business exists to make money _for_ a writer, not _from_ a writer.

    Michael N. Marcus

    author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press," http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742

    author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," coming 4/1/10. http://silversandsbooks.com/storiesbookinfo.html


  48. Jason on December 21, 2009 at 8:01 AM

    >By the way, I think Rachelle is correct in saying that agents make money from writers. The writer has a contract with the publisher, the agent does not. The agent makes a cut of the writer's earnings.

    So far as I know an agent has no formal contract with the publisher apart from her writers.

    That's NOT a bad thing. It's a good thing. The difference (once again) is in the motivation. The agent prospers when the writer prospers.

  49. Jason on December 21, 2009 at 7:56 AM

    > Agents and self-publishers both make money from writers.

    You pointed out some differences, but another difference is that an agent has a vested interest in books actually selling…a self publisher gets paid up front for all his expenses and isn't losing anything if the book flops.

    It's like the Buy Owner model of selling a home as opposed to using an agent. Buy Owner gets their money up front, then could care less whether your home sells or not. But an agent only gets paid when you get what you want.

    The client/agent relationship is inherently good because one party only prospers when the other prospers. That will always be an ideal business relationship.

  50. Krista Phillips on December 21, 2009 at 7:53 AM

    >Amen, and Amen. I agree all the way!

  51. momishome2 on December 21, 2009 at 7:36 AM

    >You've brought to the forefront of my mind the exploitation thoughts floating around. While I know there are no guarantees in life, it seems publishing with a traditional publisher (with or without an agent) would be safer and more advantageous in many ways. Why must things have changed before I got my book written?? (Yes, that is a rhetorical question!)
    ~ Bethany L.

  52. Sharon A. Lavy on December 21, 2009 at 6:39 AM

    >I agree with Kate. The good agent does not make money off the writer. The good agent, along with the writer, makes money from the publishers.

  53. Just Joany on December 21, 2009 at 6:05 AM

    >You make a very good point, here. Before my good husband and I knew about self-publishing companies, we published a book with only the knowledge we had. We sold hundreds of copies and some people still ask for more.

    Once we learned that there were companies who specialized in self-publishing, we chose one and published my husband's wonderful little picture book. Its an awesome story that should be shared. However, I believe that self-publishing has gotten in the way of how successful it might have been.

    We have learned that having a book listed at big-name bookstores does nothing. Unless someone is promoting the book, the market has no outlet to speak of.

    ~ Just Joany
    Red Wagon Flights

  54. Nathan on December 21, 2009 at 4:57 AM

    >I think the arguments were spot on. Self publishing is a scary place. For aspiring fiction writers looking for validation and ultimate success, they become easy prey to those in the business of self publishing. To them it represents publishing a dream.

    But I cringe every time I see a new website or blog of these writers, dreamers who declare boldly they have just invested their life savings in self publishing their first book, and to check out their sample chapter(s).

    Most often the sample chapters leave me with a sick pit in my stomach as I think of what they are doing. And all is done at the emphatic encouragement of their self publishing rep who assures them of the book's potential.

    Self publishing is a scary and exploitative place.

  55. Andrew on December 21, 2009 at 3:13 AM


    I thought about going to a self-publisher with my first novel – I was seduced by the fact that everyone who read it, loved it, and by the image, cultivated by the publisher (who shall remain nameless), that it only needed to get OUT THERE to become a success.


    A novel is a product, and it follows the laws of the marketplace. If no one wants to represent my work, it means that it may well NOT fit the current demands of the marketplace, and whatever feedback I got is too limited to be an adequate sample space to predict demand.

    The subsidy publisher appealed to my sense of vanity, that I've written a masterpiece, and my desire to be a victorious underdog. I admit that I thought about it.

    Publishers may be able to make money from this, but booksellers will still want books they can sell (book…sellers…geddit?), and if the quality of subsidy press books is low then the stuff won't move, and BN/Borders/Hastings will move on to publishers that will give them salable material.

    So maybe this will be a good thing – the dross will be 'published' and fill the shelves of the author's in-laws (and boxes in the author's garage), and agents and 'real live publishers' will have more scope to find really good stuff to promote.

  56. Kate Schafer Testerman on December 21, 2009 at 2:27 AM

    >Actually, I would disagree with your assertion that agents such as us make money off writers. I think we make money off publishers.

    We don't get paid by writers unless we sell the book, and all of our money only comes after the publisher pays us — which we then pass to the author after taking our cut.

    Sure, some agents do make some money off writers — if they charge for certain costs, but for the most part, I only get paid when my author gets paid, and therefore, I think we make our money from publishers.