Last week Lisa Buchan of Sparkabook offered a writers’ survey through the Publishing Perspectives site asking this question: What is the most important service publishers provide for authors? Click here for the original survey and results. I find it interesting that some authors still want to hold onto the traditional publishing methods, as digital and self-publishing gain greater acceptance in the literary world.
Tag Archives: self-publishing
In the brave new world of digital and self-publishing, Lisa Buchan, CEO of Sparkabook, poses a question that few dare to ask – do writers need a publisher? It’s most certainly a query that traditional book agents and publishing houses loathe. But, as authors take greater control over their work, it’s an inevitable discussion that needs to be had.
Previously, creative types labored in the name of their art. If they encountered someone who had enough money and power to commission them to complete further works, then they were truly blessed – and ultimately so was the rest of society. The first publishers actually were benefactors – people who sponsored a writer they liked. And, the books these writers cranked out would go almost immediately into the patron’s personal library. In other words, all the sculptors, painters and writers were at the mercy of these affluent individuals. The patrons weren’t making an “investment,” since they didn’t need to generate income for themselves. Art was done purely for art’s sake.
Contemporary publishing isn’t quite so paternalistic, but it’s close. When a publisher accepts a manuscript, they truly are making an investment in the author – in both time and money. They work with the author to polish the final product; have someone design the book jacket and any illustrations inside the text; and engage in marketing and advertising. Consequently, for their efforts, the publisher lops off a certain percentage from the profits. Book agents do basically the same, except the actual printing. If the writer is foolish enough to relinquish all rights, then that means the publishing house can sell movie or TV rights to the book, and the only benefit the writer will see is his or her name in small print beneath the term, “Based on the book by…”
As with any investment, it’s always a risk. An agent or editor may fall in love with a particular book, but – even with heavy marketing – that’s no guarantee it will sell. Every publishing house wants to discover the next Stephen King or Anne Rice. But, they won’t know if they don’t take a chance with the writer. King, for example, couldn’t get any of his horror short stories published when he began his writing career. So, porn magazine purveyor Larry Flynt, of all people, published them. Ernest Hemingway endured almost a hundred rejections before he got his first story published. If a publisher doesn’t accept someone like John Grisham – only to see him go with another company and start making millions – then obviously that first publisher starts kicking themselves. Therefore, publishing is filled with more regrets than glory.
But, as self-publishing gains more respectability and becomes the norm, agents, editors and publishers are squirming. They’re akin to the British Empire seeing power slip from its grasp, as millions of people in India refuse to bow to their authoritarian rule. It’s frightening to them, but exciting to the rest of us.
Read the rest of Buchan’s editorial here.
When is 99¢ the most appropriate price for a writer’s work? When it’s just a short story? An essay? An entire novel? I’ve noticed a number of books offered on Amazon for 99¢, usually from first-time writers trying to get their name into circulation. If you invested $1,000 to publish a novel yourself, you’d have to sell more than a 1,000 novels just to break even. This issue reminds me of a question that came up years ago, when I worked for a major bank in Dallas – how does human resources decide salaries and bonuses? What criteria do they use to determine how much someone should be paid? If you’ve kept up with the recent financial implosions on Wall Street and around the country, you’ve surely wondered how someone could justify a 7- or 8-figure salary.
So, what price do we place on a writer’s work? Should the writer set that standard? Or, should the market? And, there again, what criteria does “the market” utilize? As publishing companies struggle to survive in a rapidly changing market, so do the writers who essentially keep them in business. We all want to be paid what we think we’re worth, but that’s always subjective.
How often have you read a book or watched a movie and regretted paying for it? It went on too long; it had too much filler. People often make it through a fiction novel and think it would have been better off as just a short story. Other times they feel a non-fiction book could have fit into a magazine article. Agents and editors often will try to construct a book around a single good magazine piece. Anyone submitting a nonfiction proposal probably should have published several excerpts well in advance, as a form of vetting the work.
Writers always come up with good ideas – I have a notebook filled with great synopses – but it’s a different matter to flesh it out into a coherent story that will hold the reader’s interest. Still, you really can’t make a decent living selling your stuff for 99¢. People may buy it, but unless you’re already independently wealthy, gainfully employed, or more than willing to suffer for the sake of your art, I don’t think you’ll be too happy with how things turned out.
Last week the indomitable Betty White appeared on The Tonight Show and told host Jay Leno she doesn’t have a computer and planned to keep it that way. She received a loud round of applause, surely from an audience filled with 20 and 30-somethings who can’t imagine life without a computer. But, her comment proved that not everyone feels the same about something.
Many people, for example, don’t care for the “Amazon Empire,” as Lisa Buchan of Sparkabook describes it. Like Microsoft has done with computers and Facebook has done with human interactions, Amazon seems to have cornered a large part of the literary market – and won’t let go. Amazon began its reign by siphoning off business from distributors and now it’s jumped into the publishing realm. In effect, it’s become the Wal-Mart of publishing: selling its products at such incredibly low rates that other publishers just can’t compete. Self-publishing started to gained prominence at the turn of the century with the rapid growth of both home computers and the Internet. It’s now downright respectable. No one looks at a self-published writer as a loser. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Writers who publish their own work are viewed as adventurous businesspeople; self-made types who thumbed their nose at the almighty publishing power houses. Book agents and publishers aren’t laughing anymore. They’re actually sweating out the future; worried that they’ve unwittingly positioned themselves for inevitable obliteration.
In various groups on Linked In, I’ve encountered several writers who’ve taken the self-publishing route, frustrated (read: angered) with the old way. And, many of them have turned to Amazon to help them realize their dreams of being a professional, published writer. I can certainly vouch for the temptation. It seems Amazon will publish and sell just about anything. But, how long can it be before Amazon finds itself in the same worrisome spot as traditional book agents and publishers? Apple and Google are now turning to e-book publishing, obviously hoping to garner some of that lucrative market. But, it’s equally obvious that the publishing industry has changed altogether. And, just like computers are no longer the cumbersome machines that people only used at work, publishing is no longer for the privileged few. Whatever becomes of Amazon in the future, I feel that writers will reap the greatest rewards.
Chris Faraone starts off with a great piece of business advice from his father: “develop a compelling product, sling it like your kid is starving, and never trust distributors.” I couldn’t offer better wisdom to any kind of business entrepreneur – especially to us writers. Self-publishing – once the bastion of desperation for writers – has become more than fashionable; it’s become competitive. It’s now a viable alternative to any scribe who’s tired of trying to appeal to the right book agent or publisher with just the right proposal at just the right time. Self-publishing is a leech on traditional book publishing – but it’s the proverbial “Holy Grail” for the independent writer. It puts the power of publishing in the hands of the right people – the writers themselves. It doesn’t make the actual task of writing any easier; nor does it simplify the equally difficult job of marketing. But with self-publishing, writers at least have complete control over their work. Faraone learned about the business from his father who, ironically, operated his own book publishing company. And, although the younger Faraone concentrates a good deal of his editorial on the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, I see a perfect analogy. If you don’t like the way something is, work to change it! That’s how progress is made.