Wednesday 19 February 2014

"The Publishing Wars"

In a recent post in, Porter Anderson wades into the debate currently raging over traditionally published versus self published books. What made me read to the end of Anderson's post is his balanced approach. He hopes that "we will all agree at some point that self-publishing is “just another valuable” way to get a book out, when conditions and resources suggest it as the best course."

Anderson's post may not be as entertaining as Chuck Wendig's hilarious satire on "The publishing wars of 2014", in his blog, but Anderson's accommodating attitude has to be the way forward. As writers we should support each other in our endeavours. We are not really in competition with each other, although it sometimes feels that way. It's not as if we are all chasing one reader, who is only ever going to buy one book. If someone reads my books and enjoys them, they may go on to buy one of yours.

When Stephen Zacharius speaks out on behalf of publishers, claiming that "Publishers are gatekeepers as are agents. We are filters as to what gets published," even he has to add "in most cases." As it happens, he's right in his general claim. Most self-published authors have been rejected by mainstream publishers, however much they like to shout about "choosing" the self-publishing route because it is financially more viable. Well, "in most cases" again, that isn't true. How can it be, when we read that 98% of self-published authors fail to even cover their costs. And I suspect that 98% doesn't take into account the time self-published authors spend on activities other than actual writing.

Of course there are exceptions. Self-publishing worked for EL James who made millions - after being picked up by a mainstream publisher. There are self-published authors who succeed in making decent amounts of money without support from publishers just as there are people who have survived being struck by lightning. One self-published author has achieved genuine bestseller status by working 80 hours a week together with her husband and two assistants.

Sadly every success story sparks a following of wannabes, seduced by the dream of replicating that success. Call me cynical if you like, but where there are hosts of wannabes, the legions of parasites are never slow to leap in, ready to exploit other people's dreams. I remember the first self-published author I met telling me how proud she was to be published. She had spent nearly as much as I had received as an advance for my first book. The sums didn't reach five figures for either of us. The difference did. Someone was making money out of her creative endeavour, and it wasn't her.

But this isn't really about money. People have argued back and forth about the figures, only proving the truth of the adage that you can prove anything with statistics. The facts are shrouded in obfuscation and mirrors - lots of mirrors - and no one really knows.

Porterson concludes that "we do seem to hear self-published authors extol their approach more frequently than we hear traditionally published authors do the same for theirs. Mind you, we don’t know what that means. But it does seem to be the case."

So I want to wave the flag for publishers. I'm often asked, "What's your publisher like?" My response is unequivocal. I love my publisher. He pays me to make up stories. He publishes my books. That means he does everything for me, apart from writing the books. That's my job. Because I'm am author. Not an editor, or a proof reader, not a jacket designer or a distributor, not a typesetter or a bookseller. An author. I don't have to worry about uploads, downloads, or truck loads. I worry about character development and plot structure. And the luxury of earning a decent living doing just that is priceless.


Guillaume said...

I think self-publishing generally takes away an important part of the publication process: reviewing. A work needs a distanced, critical perspective.

Leigh Russell said...

Interesting comment, Guillaume. Reviews are often neither distanced or critical these days. There was a lot of controversy last year over the 'sock puppet' scandal where several authors used false identities to give their own books rave reviews and slate the work of other authors. You're absolutely right in what you say.

Cara Cooper said...

I'm with you there Leigh, there are so many different ways to get your work out there these days and I wouldn't criticise anyone for which route they take. Personally I don't have time to self publish, nor the technical expertise. I appreciate that my publishers do and I'm happy to give them some of my proceeds - we're in it together! Plus, it's wonderful to have an editor you can work with and I've never had one I couldn't get on with.

Leigh Russell said...

That's just how I feel, Cara. We're in it together, and it's great to have a good team behind you. Also I wonder if it changes the writer- editor relationship when the writer, not the publisher, has become the 'client' paying the editor's fee. Would all editors be so objective in those circumstances?
Thanks for taking the time to comment.

BernardL said...

Agents and publishers in the past were geared to narrow vistas. I can speak to experience that agents turned down pulp fiction without hesitation. For example, I wrote a novel, titled Hard Case, a pulp fiction tough as nails character. It was turned down by a hundred agents, and yes, I kept track so as not to query the same one twice. I teamed up with another author very skilled in marketing. We published Hard Case. The fourth book in the series will be released on March 1st. RJ Parker Publishing now has Amazon publishing credentials, and we can offer our books for pre-release orders. My other twenty novels all have picked up a growing fan base due to Hard Case success. The Hard Case series is already on audio, which could not even be considered until Amazon's emergence.

I had a publisher for my novel Cold Blooded. The only thing they ever did for me was take three years to publish it, and hand me a list of things I should do to sell it. For that they received 60% off the top. We have control of that novel now, and it is doing so well, I am writing the sequel to it. Self publishing is not for everyone. Editing, covers, formatting, and every bit of the marketing must be learned and earned. I wouldn't have it any other way. :)

Leigh Russell said...

Sounds great, Bernard, and good for you! I think publishers vary enormously. I've been very lucky with mine. They do a lot for me. Admittedly they've made more money out of my books than I have, but I'm earning a very decent living from writing fiction, which I would never have managed without them. Harper Collins have been good in the US as well. But you do hear stories of publishers who don't do much at all. As with so much in life, I guess no publisher is preferable to a bad publisher!

Unknown said...

I am still in support of traditional publishing. There is something about the process that makes it more enticing. Editors, cover design, promotion...Self-publishing is still going through some teething problems and I think in maybe 10 years, a lot more authors will be heading that way when they have the experience and ability to put together a complete marketing package.

Leigh Russell said...

I agree, Pail, publishers still have a lot to offer. As for the future - who knows?