There is an affliction sweeping the nation that until recently has mainly only been whispered about in private quarters, but which agent Sarah LaPolla and author Chuck Wendig touched on this week:
Some (some!) vocal self-published authors have a rather substantial chip on their shoulders.
Before we start get into name calling, let me state the following:
I love self-publishing! I think it’s fantastic. I wouldn’t by any means rule out partaking in this wondrous process someday and have been pro-self-publishing since the beginning of time, or at least since the mid-2000s. I think it’s awesome that authors can find their readers without needing a traditional publisher.
And I don’t blame people for being frustrated with the traditional publishing process. Yes, some people in traditional publishing are jerks and treat people accordingly. Yes, traditional publishing may well have overlooked your book. Yes, the query process is used as a torture device in some countries.
It’s frustrating. But frustration is to publishing what carbon dioxide is to breathing: a poisonous but inevitable byproduct. (What many self-published authors don’t yet realize is that this is true of self-publishing too.)
Also, when I say some self-published authors have a chip on their shoulder, this isn’t about me complaining. These chips implanted in those shoulders certainly make for entertaining if slightly horrifying flame wars. People are welcome to say whatever they want, which is why the Internet exists in the first place.
I just don’t think the chippy authors are doing themselves any favors. Here’s why:
Your attitude could alienate people you might want to work with in the future
Publishing, whether self- or traditional, is a means to an end. It’s about getting your words to readers.
And guess what: love them or hate them, traditional publishers happen to be pretty awesome at getting books to readers, especially when they’re very motivated. You may want to use one of them someday.
Now, the idea of a publishing industry blacklist is approximately 110% myth. You’re not going to end your publishing career by shooting your mouth off. But all things being equal, people don’t want to work with a jerk.
Rejection isn’t personal. There’s nothing to exact revenge over.
You’re turning off potential readers
Most readers, by and large, don’t care a whit who publishes you. They haven’t heard of 90% of the imprints out there anyway. They’re not going to read you because you wear your self-publishing badge with excessive pride. They just want to know if your book is good.
Most readers would also prefer that the authors they read are good humans too. So that helps.
Your attitude reinforces the idea that self-publishing equates authors who were rejected everywhere else
Chuck Wendig puts this one better than I could:
Every time you yell about traditional publishing it just looks like a dumptruck full of sour grapes. Which leads us all to what is likely thecorrect conclusion: you self-publish because you were rejected and your peen is in a twist about it, not because you have a great story you want people to read, not because you want the control that self-publishing affords you.
If you are self-publishing out of frustration with traditional publication you’re doing it for the wrong reasons
You should be self-publishing because it is the best career move for you, not because you grew impatient with traditional publication or arrived at self-publishing with a desire to stick it to publishers.
Are you sure you want to self-publish? Check out this checklist.
By and large self-published authors are awesome, entrepreneurial, creative individuals. Some loud ones are not. It’s temping to join the loud crowd, but better in the long run to let your work speak for you rather than your frustrations.
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Art: The Torment of St. Anthony – Michelangelo
Boy, wish I'd read through this sooner. This debate is always so interesting and at times entertaining.
I'm still one of those who sees pros and cons on both sides of this fence. That may and probably will change over the course of time as the industry works through all of this turmoil.
Personally, I like being able to turn over my book to professionals who know what they're doing with regard to publishing, marketing, and distributing my work. When it works well (for some it does and others it does not) I believe traditional publishing is a good thing. You are being asked to sacrifice of lot of the income for services rendered. Is it too much to ask? Yeah, I'd say it probably is. Authors deserve fairer slice of the pie. What is actually fair is open to debate, but I'd say it's more than the sub-10% we get now.
Are these disadvantageous agreements stealing? I suppose that might be semantics, but steeping contracts in legalese such that it's difficult to decipher some elements unless you hire a lawyer is nice way to obfuscate the truth of the terms of the contract. It's certainly not illegal, and one can say that it is the problem of the author and/or agent to decipher the contractual terms so that one understands exactly what one is getting into, which is true as far as that goes, but you can bet that publishers had lawyers working on their side to blur the lines of understanding as it were.
Why publishers can't have an attachment to contracts that puts all of the terms in plain english is beyond me. Transparency is a good thing, and legal contracts are anything but.
That said, it's not a secret that authors don't get much of a return. We've worked in an industry that until the past few years left us no option. True, we could say no, but that meant not publishing. We now have another option, and it's going to behoove publishers to step up to the plate a bit here or the pool of talent is going to shift to self-publishing.
The biggest thing pubs have going for them is store distribution, promo, and getting that manuscript into book form. They don't always do this well, but when they do it's worth a lot. Doing it on your own takes a lot of work, time, and investment to do well. To many writers think they have what it takes to do it right and they don't. Personally, I can't afford to do what I would want to do. Not yet. When and if I can, I'll probably give it a go.
Meanwhile, the "chippers" as it were, while kind of annoying, are providing the benefit of making this argument loud enough for a lot of people to hear. This is a good thing. It needs to be heard. We don't need to be pointing fingers at writers who don't want to leave tradtional or laughing at those who try to self publish. We need to continue to positively voice the fact that we deserve fair compensation. Both publishing avenues are worthwhile in their own way, both have drawbacks, but when it comes to fairness, it's hard to argue the fact that it isn't an issue when you're doing it all yourself. This is appealing to a lot of people, myself included.
Deleted my last comment. I've said enough on this thread.
Thanks for giving a space for debate around difficult topics, Nathan.
It's a shame Mira deleted her previous comment, because I thought this was relevant to the conversation: "In addition, self publishers are not eligible for membership in the [Authors] Guild. Nor are unpublished writers, or many small press published writers."
If every member of the Authors Guild has worked tirelessly to get published and is indebted to his or her publisher, how could the members of the Authors Guild do anything but support their publishers, right or wrong? How many people would support the other side in a lawsuit against the company they work for? Not many, which makes the Authors Guild support of the big six and Apple against Amazon irrelevant. You don't bite the hand that feeds you.
I thought some people here might be interested in my side-by-side comparison of traditional versus indie publishing. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages: https://shevi.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-know-my-friends-mean-well-when-they.html
Once again you've put words to something many of us have noticed without fully realizing it. Your acuteness is sorely needed as we attempt to navigate the insanity of this rapidly changing field.
Nathan Bransford says
I think it's definitely open for debate whether the Authors Guild should open its doors, but published authors were also the only ones with a dog in that particular fight. I do think they were acting according to their view of authors' interest.
I buy a lot of books. I'd like to pay less for them. Amazon wants to charge me less for them, while at the same time giving publishers exactly the same profit. That's good for me, because, as I said, I'd rather pay less for books. Lower prices make me more inclined to buy lots of them. Higher prices make me disinclined to buy them at all.
It's true that I don't have a dog in this race (what's with the cliches?) as an indie author, because either way I still make a 70% royalty rate on the books I sell through Amazon, the Apple iBookstore, BN, Google Play, and pretty much everywhere else I sell e-books. Even though Google Play sells my books for less than anyone else, they still give me the exact same 70% of the retail price I set. But I do have a dog in this race as a consumer who buys a lot of books.
And I have to admit it does break my heart a little when I see my traditionally published colleagues making only 15% instead of 70% on e-book sales that are paltry because no one wants to buy e-books that cost $15 or more. It broke my heart even more when I learned from Kristine Rusch's blog that they're not even getting that: https://kriswrites.com/2011/04/20/the-business-rusch-royalty-statements-update/
Look at it this way: the only time I have bought a Kindle book from one of the big six publishers was when it was on sale. I have never paid more than $4.99 for any e-book. So when Amazon lowers the prices on their e-books, the big six publishers are making a sale they wouldn't have made otherwise. That's good for everyone, isn't it?
I'm willing to bet that the large majority of Kindle owners are like me. We're loading our Kindles with books that cost less than $9.99–the maximum that Amazon wants to charge–and buying few if any books over that amount. The DOJ verdict wasn't just in favor of Amazon. It was in favor of anyone who buys books or who has a vested interest in consumers buying books.
Nathan Bransford says
Right, but the interests of readers and authors aren't always aligned. Readers want books for free, authors want them to pay for them. That's not quite what we were discussing with the DOJ lawsuit. The idea presented was that the Authors Guild wasn't acting in (traditionally published) authors' interests. I'm not sure I agree with their stance, but I do believe they were acting in good faith on behalf of authors.
Oh, I'm sure they were acting in good faith. I don't agree with their conclusions, but I'm sure they thought what they were doing was in the best interest of the writers they represent.
And while it might be possible that not everything that's good for readers is good for writers, in this particular case, I think our interests are the same. As I pointed out, high prices mean few or no books sold; while reasonable prices mean lots of books sold. That's good for both readers and writers.
And since you brought the issue of free books up, you do know that Neil Gaiman disagrees with you on that, right? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qkyt1wXNl It's a mistaken assumption to think that free books are bad for authors.
For those citing the Authors Guild as evidence that the DOJ is wrong, it should be noted that many authors now consider the Authors Guild little more than a shill for legacy publishing and want nothing to do with that organization. It used to be that legacy publishers always offered the best deals to writers, so when the Authors Guild reminded writers to avoid small publishing houses, they really did have the best interest of writers in mind. Now, it seems that the Authors Guild is so used to being kept in business by traditional publishers and literary agents and the entire big publishing world, it makes statements that suggest it knows almost nothing at all about the modern world of indie and self publishing. The Authors Guild has recently gone on such extreme rants against self-publishing, it puts any extreme self-publishing author rant to shame.
Rolando Garcia says
If you want to understand why many writers have a "chip on their shoulder" when it comes to this matter read this post: https://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/05/unconscionability.html
Marilyn Peake says
Shevi – Kristine Kathryn Rusch is awesome!
For anyone who isn't aware of her blog on the modern publishing world and the business side of writing, it's an invaluable place to learn about changes in publishing and to find out about questionable publishing practices as they arise: The Business Rusch. She is one of the rare highly successful authors published by the big publishing houses who dares to speak out against them. She's also broken records in awards she's received, which includes being the only person to ever win a Hugo Award for both editing and writing. Here's her Bio: Biography of Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, also a successful writer, is much more extreme, perhaps more similar to Joe Konrath in his views. I looked up his website just now to post a link to it, and discovered that his post today is titled: Holy Smokes, Batman. I Agree With Nathan Bransford. HaHaHa. Timely. 🙂
C. Issy says
This was a great post. I wish I had it a few weeks ago, when I (very gently)tweeted back at a self-pubber whose promotional tweet basically spewed vitriol about trad publishers. I reminded her that, as a reader, that sort of promotion turns me off from ever purchasing a book and that she should tell me why I'd love her book, instead of bashing others. Sadly, I don't think she listened– but I do hope that she finds this post.
Phil Simon says
It's not just about publishing. Doing anything creative is inherently frustrating. Art, music, acting, writing, and all creative endeavors mean that you're putting yourself out there–and the audience probably isn't as big or vociferous as you think it should be.
Thank you for this blog and this particular post as I had the most frustrating week this last one. I had only posted once about such frustrations thank god, but now I know that I need to keep my fingers to myself. Thanks again!
What's that I hear?
Sounds like a dinosaur dying.
You know, sometimes self-publishing is about building confidence. Especially, in my case, because I was learning my craft and sent it out to publishers and agents way too early and burnt all the bridges. But, it was a story that improved and there were friends, family and beyond that wanted to read it. So, I self-published. Now, I have the confidence to interact in writing organisations and tackle another story that WILL be written properly. It's just a pity that many in the industry seem so derogatory towards all self-published without giving some of it a chance. No chip here, just a little disappointed at the attitudes from the other side of the coin, especially the ridicule. Very sad.