Begun, the publishing war has…

Who can resist quoting Yoda?
OK, back to a more serious note. When Dean Wesley Smith commented a couple of months ago that he saw a war in publishing on the way, and sides already forming up, I really wasn’t sure. I mean, I saw folks who didn’t want to believe things were changing as fast as they were. And I saw a lot of folks still stuck in the “Writer’s Digest” myths. But I sorta thought that people would gradually catch on, and writers would settle into a new world of putting their own stuff up as ebooks and print on demand books, and then selling some books to big publishers as a loss leader to get their marketing dollars behind a writer’s name. My gut said that writers, being generally smart people, would do the smart thing.
Oh, was I ever wrong.
I’m convinced, now. Dean was right, is right.
A large chunk of writers are simply not happy with the changes taking place. They don’t want to have to be responsible for their businesses. They want to basically be employees – write a book, get paid. Unfortunately, it’s never really worked like that (despite myths to the contrary), and is less like that today than it’s been in decades. But there’s a big chunk of writers who don’t want those changes. They want their agents taking care of the business stuff. They want the publisher marketing the book. They want to sit back, write, and not have to worry about anything else.
That mindset is doomed.
Dean just wrote a new article about how the latest agent scam is taking off and blossoming. More and more agencies are becoming publishers. They offer to take your book, get it ready to publish, publish the ebook, and split “net receipts” with you after expenses for the book are paid. Dean goes into why this is a horrible deal in a lot of detail here. Short form? Your $4.99 ebook would make you $3.50 a copy if you sell it yourself. With these agents, your $4.99 ebook earns you $1.75 a copy MINUS whatever their operating expenses are – *after* you’ve paid off whatever their production costs were on the book with those $1.75 chunks. So if they decide the “net receipt” is $2 on that $4.99 ebook ($3.50 minus $1.50 for their operating expenses, accounting dept, etc.), and they decide they spent $10,000 getting your book edited, formatted, and uploaded, you will need to sell 10,000 ebooks before you get a red cent from them. And after that you’d get $1 a book.
Not saying those are the numbers any specific agent gone publisher is using. But they could. “Net receipts” is an extremely vague term unless it is absolutely defined in the contract. Basically, these agent deals are very nearly the same thing as the scam subsidy presses out there – the ones who charge writers up front AND charge a percentage of income per book. The difference is, instead of charging up front and laying the fees out on the table, these agents are potentially able to obscure their fees so that a writer might have a very hard time figuring out what they’re actually supposed to be making. Extremely dangerous.
Kris Rusch just wrote an article, too – talking about some of the other grabs going on. Agents not longer work for writers, she asserts. And that seems borne out by the flat-out dangerous and outrageous clauses showing up – not in publishing contracts, but in *agency* contracts! Clauses which give the agency a chunk of any future sale of the work, even if the agency is fired. Clauses that give an agency a chunk of any future sales in that world, or with those characters, and definitely any sequels. Even if the writer has since fired that agency.
It was bad enough that publishers were pulling those sorts of dangerous contract clauses. But now, agencies are as well.
I agree completely with her take on the subject.
– There is no longer any reason for a writer to have an agent. If you want someone to go over a contract, get an IP lawyer, it’s cheaper and they’re actually regulated by the government and actually educated about contract law.
– If a writer does not stand up for him or herself, nobody else is going to do it. It’s up to us.
– Writers now have options. We can say NO to a contract and just publish the book ourselves. If the contract is bad, and the other side won’t budge, say no.
But I’m not really sure that’s sinking in. I spent part of last week over on a writer’s forum that’s well known and pretty well regarded. It’s a very popular hang out and location to get advice. And they had forums for both self publishing and e-publishing, so I popped in. I quickly found myself embattled by a bunch of folks who were passionate in their resistance to the idea of self publishing, to a degree that was almost scary. Even the designated mods of the forums were pretty solid in their negative feedback about self publishing. It didn’t take me too long to catch on. The self publishing forum was in place to collect posts about the subject, so a bunch of folks could trash the idea regularly enough that writers stopping by see that self publishing is clearly still a bad idea, and not a valid route for writers to follow. Maybe OK to dabble in, but not as a career route.
The forum isn’t there for discussion so much as it’s there for maintaining a steady flow of disinformation.
But that, and places like it, are some of the fields where the battle is being fought right now. Writers come in hearing about self publishing taking off, and looking for ways to make it work for them. If they happen across Dean’s blog, or Kris’s blog, or Joe Konrath’s blog, they’ll hear about how to make it work. If they go to some other places…they hear about how it’s all hogwash and overblown and doomed to failure.
The level of Stockholm Syndrome in some of those places is pretty frightening.
But then, so is the alternative to a lot of folks. If self publishing really is now the *best* option for most writers, what does that mean? It means writers must take charge of finding an editor. It means writers must learn to format ebooks. It means writers must trust their work enough to put it up for public sales without the “validation” of sale to an NYC publisher. It means writers need to know good art from bad well enough to hire a good artist. It means writers need to learn some basic accounting. It means writers need to market their books (arguably, that was already true since publishers were no longer doing much marketing on most books, but the myth says otherwise).
It means writers need to step up and take charge of the business they are running.
Which scares the beejeezus out of a lot of writers.
But here’s the thing: one way or another, it’s pretty much over for those writers. The ones too scared, too badly grounded in old myths, too ill-informed about industry changes, and – dare I say it – too lazy to take charge of their business are done for. If the bad contracts don’t kill their careers, simple contraction of the ‘traditional’ publishing industry will do it instead. Only writers willing to learn business are going to survive in the years ahead, via either trade publishers or self publishing. The option to have someone else ‘take care of it’ for you is simply no longer valid anymore.
Stand up. Step up. Take charge. Make it happen for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.


34 Replies to “Begun, the publishing war has…”

  1. I’m right there with you. I’ve also been following this, and I’ve also had some very frustrating conversations with other writers on the subject. I was arguing with one whose entire argument was little more than “don’t wanna”. I have a friend of many years who accepted a very low royalty and a very high list price because the book is in a small niche market. I worry about that and I hope that he isn’t as hosed as I think he might be.
    I’ve written about this on my blog and I’m going to start compiling links, so we’ll have to compare notes.
    I have an idea for another post that I can whip up while I’m thinking about it. In fact, it’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before…

    1. I honestly don’t know how to “fix” it, either Ed. Or even if we have to. I mean, that’s the thing about calling this a “war”. It’s only really a war if both sides have something personal at stake. If those of us who know what’s up are going to be fine whether or not thousands of writers get scammed, it’s not really a war. It’s more like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
      It just feels like a war because of the…intense nature…of the partisans on both sides. What I find really frustrating is how little facts seem to matter when debating the issue with anti-independence writers. Like someone commented over on Dean’s blog, ““There’s no point using logic to talk somebody out of an idea they didn’t arrive at by logic.”

  2. I’m right there with you. I’ve also been following this, and I’ve also had some very frustrating conversations with other writers on the subject. I was arguing with one whose entire argument was little more than “don’t wanna”. I have a friend of many years who accepted a very low royalty and a very high list price because the book is in a small niche market. I worry about that and I hope that he isn’t as hosed as I think he might be.
    I’ve written about this on my blog and I’m going to start compiling links, so we’ll have to compare notes.

    I have an idea for another post that I can whip up while I’m thinking about it. In fact, it’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before…

    1. I honestly don’t know how to “fix” it, either Ed. Or even if we have to. I mean, that’s the thing about calling this a “war”. It’s only really a war if both sides have something personal at stake. If those of us who know what’s up are going to be fine whether or not thousands of writers get scammed, it’s not really a war. It’s more like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
      It just feels like a war because of the…intense nature…of the partisans on both sides. What I find really frustrating is how little facts seem to matter when debating the issue with anti-independence writers. Like someone commented over on Dean’s blog, ““There’s no point using logic to talk somebody out of an idea they didn’t arrive at by logic.”

  3. I concur, Kevin. It’s time for writers to grow a pair and take responsibility for themselves. Many won’t, though, and there’s little you, I, or anyone can do to stop that. It’ll be painful to watch, that’s for sure.
    Regardless, it’s a very interesting time to get into this gig. I don’t know about you, but I feel fortunate to be starting out now, vice say ten years ago. The doors are wide open, and the potential is huge, for those with the drive and guts to take it.

    1. Heh. I did start out ten years ago, and got out. I still wrote – mostly fun little bits I posted to internet groups who appreciated them. I played MMOs for a number of years, and wrote many pages of fan fic about various worlds over the years. Got out because in the late 90s, publishing looked like there was a lot of luck and a lot of headache involved.
      The changes over the last couple of years were really what drew me back in. I’d finished two NaNoWriMo novels (my wife and my annual November fun for the last three years) before I stumbled across Joe Konrath’s blog – and from there, Dean’s, then Kris’s, and Mike Stackpole’s. The rest is history.
      This stuff is *fun* for me. 😉

  4. I concur, Kevin. It’s time for writers to grow a pair and take responsibility for themselves. Many won’t, though, and there’s little you, I, or anyone can do to stop that. It’ll be painful to watch, that’s for sure.
    Regardless, it’s a very interesting time to get into this gig. I don’t know about you, but I feel fortunate to be starting out now, vice say ten years ago. The doors are wide open, and the potential is huge, for those with the drive and guts to take it.

    1. Heh. I did start out ten years ago, and got out. I still wrote – mostly fun little bits I posted to internet groups who appreciated them. I played MMOs for a number of years, and wrote many pages of fan fic about various worlds over the years. Got out because in the late 90s, publishing looked like there was a lot of luck and a lot of headache involved.
      The changes over the last couple of years were really what drew me back in. I’d finished two NaNoWriMo novels (my wife and my annual November fun for the last three years) before I stumbled across Joe Konrath’s blog – and from there, Dean’s, then Kris’s, and Mike Stackpole’s. The rest is history.

      This stuff is *fun* for me. 😉

  5. Kevin, I agree with you and Dean about this and, really, it just comes down to folks being lazy. I set up my own LLC to publish my stories and books – for $50 by completing a whopping one form from the state of Michigan. Finding a cover artist wasn’t difficult and neither was finding another service provider for formatting.
    Would I rather just write? Sure. But I like controlling my own destiny and not having to work on anyone’s schedule accept my own. I really don’t feel a need to query agents to find out of my project “works for them.”
    People looking to take a cut of the money you earn isn’t limited to agents, though. My cover artist tried to pull that and I quickly said that it would be a flat fee, period.

    1. PJ, good for you at the last part of your post. If an author doesn’t want to do the cover art, proofing, etc. on his own, that’s fine. But he should not every settle for a percentage of sales for his works. Whatever he seeks help on, a flat rate is the smart way to go.

      1. I wonder how much is laziness and how much of it is lack of information, even active disinformation. As Dean’s said, there’s a war out there – a shooting war – between writers who are heavily invested in a personal manner in the old model, and writers who are dedicated to the new. There’s a lot of people out there who are spreading false information about self publishing.
        Even without that, there’s still the matter of learning the ropes. Took me six months to really get spun up on the business and all that’s involved. And I spent a considerable number of hours on that process. The information is out there – it’s just not always easy to find. And writers who assume publishing is some hugely complex, black box deal (or who listen to large publishers telling them that) are less likely to even begin looking.

  6. Kevin, I agree with you and Dean about this and, really, it just comes down to folks being lazy. I set up my own LLC to publish my stories and books – for $50 by completing a whopping one form from the state of Michigan. Finding a cover artist wasn’t difficult and neither was finding another service provider for formatting.
    Would I rather just write? Sure. But I like controlling my own destiny and not having to work on anyone’s schedule accept my own. I really don’t feel a need to query agents to find out of my project “works for them.”

    People looking to take a cut of the money you earn isn’t limited to agents, though. My cover artist tried to pull that and I quickly said that it would be a flat fee, period.

    1. PJ, good for you at the last part of your post. If an author doesn’t want to do the cover art, proofing, etc. on his own, that’s fine. But he should not every settle for a percentage of sales for his works. Whatever he seeks help on, a flat rate is the smart way to go.

      1. I wonder how much is laziness and how much of it is lack of information, even active disinformation. As Dean’s said, there’s a war out there – a shooting war – between writers who are heavily invested in a personal manner in the old model, and writers who are dedicated to the new. There’s a lot of people out there who are spreading false information about self publishing.
        Even without that, there’s still the matter of learning the ropes. Took me six months to really get spun up on the business and all that’s involved. And I spent a considerable number of hours on that process. The information is out there – it’s just not always easy to find. And writers who assume publishing is some hugely complex, black box deal (or who listen to large publishers telling them that) are less likely to even begin looking.

  7. A lot of people don’t like change. It scares them.
    Writers also tend to be prone to depression, which can make even the simplest tasks seem enormous. They break down self-publishing into all these little steps and what-ifs and get overwhelmed.
    I freelance as a web writer for my day job. Self-publishing has always looked appealing to me, well before I had anything ready—I even joined LuLu when they were still fairly new. I told myself I’d seriously consider self-publishing the when I could release PoD mass market paperbacks at the same price as a legacy publisher and still turn an acceptable profit.
    Huh, would you look at that: we’re here!

    1. We surely are. 😉 And that’s even without the ebook thing, where it’s possible to price lower than the legacy publisher, hit all the same markets as the legacy publisher, and still earn more per book.

  8. A lot of people don’t like change. It scares them.
    Writers also tend to be prone to depression, which can make even the simplest tasks seem enormous. They break down self-publishing into all these little steps and what-ifs and get overwhelmed.

    I freelance as a web writer for my day job. Self-publishing has always looked appealing to me, well before I had anything ready—I even joined LuLu when they were still fairly new. I told myself I’d seriously consider self-publishing the when I could release PoD mass market paperbacks at the same price as a legacy publisher and still turn an acceptable profit.

    Huh, would you look at that: we’re here!

    1. We surely are. 😉 And that’s even without the ebook thing, where it’s possible to price lower than the legacy publisher, hit all the same markets as the legacy publisher, and still earn more per book.

  9. I think this is the “minefield” we spoke of a while back, and I don’t find it that surprising or apocalyptic.
    Businesses ALWAYS try to screw people over when the market is new and no one knows what’s going on. But give it a couple years and enough people will get blown up that things will straighten out. That’s the nature of a minefield. Eventually enough bombs go off that people navigate around them. Not to say it’s not horrible for the people getting blown up (it is) but it’s not a permanent situation.
    eBooks are still brand new, relatively speaking so it makes sense that publishers are going to try to get as much as they can. Doesn’t mean that it’s good for the writers, far from it, but I understand where they’re coming from.
    I think once the massive “OMG, this is all new and terrifying” settles down we’ll see a combination of self-publishing, agent-publishing, and the evolved form of traditional publishing.
    I’m hoping for something like an 80/20 split in favor of the writer once this all gets hashed out. Expecting every writer to be able to transform themselves into a business person is like expecting every major league baseball player to be good at basketball. They’re different games that only vaguely resemble one another.
    A 50/50 is bogus, to be sure, but as I said, I expect market forces to change it. It’s just a matter of time and enough mines going off. Horrible in the short run, but there’s always tomorrow.

  10. I think this is the “minefield” we spoke of a while back, and I don’t find it that surprising or apocalyptic.
    Businesses ALWAYS try to screw people over when the market is new and no one knows what’s going on. But give it a couple years and enough people will get blown up that things will straighten out. That’s the nature of a minefield. Eventually enough bombs go off that people navigate around them. Not to say it’s not horrible for the people getting blown up (it is) but it’s not a permanent situation.

    eBooks are still brand new, relatively speaking so it makes sense that publishers are going to try to get as much as they can. Doesn’t mean that it’s good for the writers, far from it, but I understand where they’re coming from.

    I think once the massive “OMG, this is all new and terrifying” settles down we’ll see a combination of self-publishing, agent-publishing, and the evolved form of traditional publishing.

    I’m hoping for something like an 80/20 split in favor of the writer once this all gets hashed out. Expecting every writer to be able to transform themselves into a business person is like expecting every major league baseball player to be good at basketball. They’re different games that only vaguely resemble one another.

    A 50/50 is bogus, to be sure, but as I said, I expect market forces to change it. It’s just a matter of time and enough mines going off. Horrible in the short run, but there’s always tomorrow.

  11. Yeah. I published one book in 2005, and spent the next five years trying to publish another book, trying to find another publisher, and trying to find an agent. It never panned out.
    But now, in 2011, I’m really, really glad it didn’t.

  12. Yeah. I published one book in 2005, and spent the next five years trying to publish another book, trying to find another publisher, and trying to find an agent. It never panned out.
    But now, in 2011, I’m really, really glad it didn’t.

  13. It really is frightening that some would resort to that kind of disinformation so they can keep these dogmatic, outdated myths on life support a while longer.
    Writers that may have considered self-publishing, but weren’t really committed to doing the work, will find the agent scam inviting not only because someone will “take care” of them, but having an “agent” will give them the (unnecessary) sense of ‘legitimacy’ that they think they would get publishing in NYC.

  14. It really is frightening that some would resort to that kind of disinformation so they can keep these dogmatic, outdated myths on life support a while longer.
    Writers that may have considered self-publishing, but weren’t really committed to doing the work, will find the agent scam inviting not only because someone will “take care” of them, but having an “agent” will give them the (unnecessary) sense of ‘legitimacy’ that they think they would get publishing in NYC.

    1. Of course, you’re absolutely right.
      However, I contest that if Yoda was here, that’s what he’d be saying. 😉

    1. Of course, you’re absolutely right.
      However, I contest that if Yoda was here, that’s what he’d be saying. 😉

  15. Why in the world should writers be immune to the waves of extinction that arise from seismic evolutionary shifts? Why in the world should you fight to try to convince someone that what they believe is probably wrong (which none of us know, anyway)?
    Readers DO NOT CARE what the writer believes or what works best for writers or who is right. They want a good book at a fair price and they won’t mourn the missing for a single moment. In fact, they won’t even know the missing are missing. It’s not like there’s a shortage.
    Scott Nicholson

    1. Why fight?
      Good question.
      I’ve only got three good answers, and they’re all MY reasons. Good, bad, or indifferent, they’re why I bother.
      1) Because people have helped me. In every stage of my writing, folks have come along who’ve taught me, given me a boost, showed me a better way. I feel like I owe it to those folks to “pass it down”, and help others out too.
      2) I have a Quixotic tendency to tilt at windmills, especially when said windmills are taking advantage of folks, acting like bullies, or otherwise making lives miserable. I’m the guy who signed on to the Army during Desert Shield, folks: I have a paladin complex. So sue me. 😉
      3) Because I think it’s the right thing to do.

  16. Why in the world should writers be immune to the waves of extinction that arise from seismic evolutionary shifts? Why in the world should you fight to try to convince someone that what they believe is probably wrong (which none of us know, anyway)?
    Readers DO NOT CARE what the writer believes or what works best for writers or who is right. They want a good book at a fair price and they won’t mourn the missing for a single moment. In fact, they won’t even know the missing are missing. It’s not like there’s a shortage.

    Scott Nicholson

    1. Why fight?
      Good question.

      I’ve only got three good answers, and they’re all MY reasons. Good, bad, or indifferent, they’re why I bother.

      1) Because people have helped me. In every stage of my writing, folks have come along who’ve taught me, given me a boost, showed me a better way. I feel like I owe it to those folks to “pass it down”, and help others out too.

      2) I have a Quixotic tendency to tilt at windmills, especially when said windmills are taking advantage of folks, acting like bullies, or otherwise making lives miserable. I’m the guy who signed on to the Army during Desert Shield, folks: I have a paladin complex. So sue me. 😉

      3) Because I think it’s the right thing to do.

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