It’s no secret that I’ve been a supporter of the indie author movement even before I joined its ranks. It is also no secret that the traditional publishing sector has been struggling for years. What most readers don’t understand is how badly authors, the real creators of what they read, are treated. Those creators get only a pittance from what readers pay for their books. The rest goes to agents and the publishers. It never made a lot of sense to me but, for years, that was the only game in town. That’s no longer the case (Thankfully!). Indie publishing gives us more control over our careers, our pocketbook and so much more.
I’ve tried not to discourage others from going the traditional route. I do encourage them to educate themselves on what a publisher will actually do for them–not what they think the publisher will do. It is amazing the number of new writers who think they will have the same sort of relationship with their publisher that Castle had with his (TV series) or that Jessica Fletcher (another TV series) had with hers. They have visions of going through rounds of editing with copy editors and proof readers and content editors who not only spent time reading their books but who love the book and care for it. They see major ad campaigns, interviews and book signings–all on the publisher’s dime. They believe they will receive a fair contract, one that they can get out of if they become unhappy and that will allow them to have their rights revert back to them without any problems.
All too many of them will sign contracts without having an IP attorney check the paperwork over first. I get it. The excitement of being offered a contract, of thinking you will soon see your book on the shelves at the local bookstore, is intoxicating. But it is a dream, one too many authors fall for and learn too late that they will not get anything close to what they expected.
This is something Dean Wesley Smith has written about a number of times. His blog is one of those I follow because I know he not only understands the industry but he doesn’t hold his punches–whether we’re talking about indie or trad publishing. That’s why this particular blog post resonated with me and why I recommend every writer and every person considering trying for a traditional publishing contract read him.
The post is short and sweet and goes straight to the point.
The publishing industry has changed. Traditional publishing hasn’t, not really. Writers don’t need publishing companies any longer, not really. Especially not when it refuses to come into the modern age.
I would add to this that these same publishers keep trying to convince us they deserve the lion’s share of monies from each sale because of the “services” they offer. They edit our books. They print our books. They store our books. They transport our books. They promote our books, etc.
The problem is that in this day and age there are too many holes in that explanation for it to fly. I’ve blogged about it here and over at MGC. Dean and others have as well. But, as Dean said in his post linked above, “you can lead a writer to knowledge but you can’t get them to think.”
So here’s my request to anyone considering going the traditional route: think. Do your homework and really take a hard look at what that traditional publisher is promising and what they actually seem to do for other authors. When is the last time you saw a book signing for anyone but a best seller? When is the last time you saw an interview with an author who wasn’t on the NYT Best Seller List? When is the last time you went to a bookstore to buy a book? (And how many of your friends and family do?)
Yes, there are exceptions to that caveat. Well, one exception and still some of the warnings should be kept in mind. That exception is Baen. It is the only traditional publisher I’d consider working with right now. Even then, I’d have an IP attorney go over the contract. I’d make sure I was clear on all the contract’s clauses. I would, to the best of my ability, go into the relationship with my eyes open.
You owe it to yourselves to do the same thing, no matter the publisher.
Educate yourselves and learn.
More than that, keep doing it because this industry changes quicker than you realize.