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.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
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Art: The Torment of St. Anthony – Michelangelo
RE: "Well, some of the most vocal 'chippers', as you put it, are people I know who published some good books, worked like dogs to promote them on their own dime, made money for their publishers…and STILL got shitcanned for being 'midlist' and not being bestsellers."
I can certainly understand why traditionally-published writers take the self-publishing route after they get fed up with the industry itself — or because the industry gives up on them, often prematurely. However, I have very mixed feelings when they turn into "chippers" who can't find a single good word about the very publishers who handed them a built-in platform. Essentially, an audience.
Let's face it. Had some of these folks never been traditionally published in the first place, they'd have -0- street cred with self-published writers who are absolute beginners.
stephanie Queen says
Speaking of tone, the tone I dislike most–more than chippiness–is preachiness. You know, that preachy holier-than-though judgmental tone.
It comes across in blogs that tell you all about what you should be doing and not doing. You know the kind of blog that scolds those practices that it judges to be bad for whatever reason, by other bloggers.
That's the tone I dislike most.
I think everyone has a right to their own chip and a right to write all about it.
Anne R. Allen says
Thanks for tackling this prickly subject Nathan. I talked about it on my blog last week, too. Mostly I'm concerned about new writers feeling bullied into self-publishing by zealots who tell them they're morons to bother with querying agents. It's not an either/or issue, as Laura and Holly and others have said in these thoughtful comments. Many, many successful authors use both self-and trad. methods. Shoulder-chips are getting in the way of real dialogue. https://annerallen.blogspot.com/2012/05/indie-or-traditional-publishing-dont.html
Roger Floyd says
As an unpublished ficton author, it's difficult for me to know whether regular or self-publishing is the best way to go–I have no experience with either one. I've decided to try it the traditional way first because I want to learn from the experience of agents and editors in the process. Perhaps self-publishing will be next. Then again, perhaps it won't.
A new anon because I am too lazy to log in.
I think that number two should be moved up to number one. I have put both J A Konrath and Barry Eisler on my do not buy list because of they're ranting and raving about traditional publishing.
I haven't put Bob Mayer on that list, yet. If he becomes unreasonable about the publishing process eg my way or the highway, then he'll get put on the do not buy list as well. Which would be a shame because I recommend his writing books and seminars to people who are serious about learning the craft of writing.
I echo Roger's comment (a few comments ago). I sent maybe 7 queries to agents after I finished my first manuscript…then I read it again and realized it was far from finished and they had good reason to reject me! I started working on #2 and polishing #1, and soon I'll be looking to publish again.
The pro self-publishers are loud and sometimes negative, but they also have valid points. I disagree that negativity is never the route to go. Sometimes people need to wake up.
That said, being negative or critical and being whiny and self-loathing are very different. I don't know about the rest of the writer-blog-readers, but I can usually sniff the difference in 3 sentences.
Thank you for this post (and all your posts) and the links to related articles!
Megg Jensen says
We're not all chippy. 😉
There is hatred on both sides, Nathan. It's sad.
You'd think we'd all be united by our love of writing. Publication isn't and shouldn't be a competition.
I'm happy for my writing friends whether they self-pub or nab a trad contract. If they're happy, I'm happy.
Shelli (srjohannes) says
Grr – my last post did somethign wierd>
i think some self pubbers are disgruntled with traditional publishing process and I think some traditional authors are frustrated that self pubbers can get books out to readers without going through the longer vetted process.
I think all publishing is valid and I would hate to see any of publishing on either side go away. There is enough to go around and every path is different.
I do think self pubbers need to be more aware of what they are putting out. And take more pride in their work to put out a good product that is edited and professional.
I think the dialogue is effective but it is important to be professional and positive when dealing with anyone.
Hating on each other is not going to help this industry move forward in a positive way.
Cant we all just get along?? 🙂
Kristi Helvig says
I agree with some of this. I agree completely on the tone thing, but I think Chuck threw out the baby with the bathwater. There are valid points raised by those who self-publish, however those points can be lost in the mix when someone's tone is aggressive.
While it's true that people have often self-published because of an inability to find a traditional publisher, I don't think this will be the case much longer. Some writers who are business minded might want the added control of self-publishing. I adore my agent and am not opposed to traditional publishing, but I'm also very open to the idea of self-pubbing.
The danger comes in seeing one side as "bad," and the other as "good" when things are never that black and white. I think it's a great thing that authors have more options than ever before. 🙂
"I have put both J A Konrath and Barry Eisler on my do not buy list because of they're ranting and raving about traditional publishing."
Yes, they do rant and rave. The approach they take gets tired. But the problem is that everything they say makes sense. I'm not trying to be snarky here. I've read their posts and I've tried to prove them wrong. It's not very easy to do, especially the part about Amazon being right and legacy publishing missing that proverbial boat.
I know for a fact that the big six publishers had digital technology in the late 1990's. They knew it was coming and yet they dismissed it completely. I also heard more than one person in traditional publishing professional laugh at digital books. They were wrong. Time has proven this. So while I don't like the approach with Konrath and Eisler, I can't fault them for one, telling the truth, and two, for being open about the truth.
And I have read nothing they've said that could hurt a new author. I can't say the same thing about traditional publishing web sites and blogs. Many are still dead silent when it comes to e-books. Others have shut down completely because they have nothing left to say and they are being challenged for the first time.
The post Konrath wrote about the AAR sending a letter regarding the DOJ settlement was rich with truth…and common sense. Again, they are obnoxious. But they are telling the truth and no one else is.
"Chip on one's shoulder" is pretty vague. I am going to name a name: Konrath. He's outspoken against traditional publishing, but he's also made some EXCELLENT points. Let's face it, if you chose to go self-pub there are reasons. And one of the reasons may be all of the flaws in the traditional publishing path. If you think there aren't any flaws: you are blind and you need to read Konrath's blog.
For example: Konrath recently had an ex-Harlequin author show how she had been tricked into getting only a 2% royalty rate. Worse, agent Scott Eagan than said it was her own fault for signing the contract. Nevermind that it's an AGENT'S job to make sure their client understands the weird legalese in a contract. To trivialize that aspect, to make it sound like understanding a contract is easy, is so ridiculous and disingenuous. However, agents don't have to take a bar exam to become a literary agent. So most authors going the traditional publishing route have to risk having an incompetent agent and a horrible contract. Meanwhile, Amazon offers indie publishers offer a very easy to read 70%/30% split with no gotchas. So seriously, do you really think indie authors should just shut up and NOT criticize traditional publishing just because there is a chance you might go that route later? I don't think so. I can only *HOPE* that these self-publish authors continue to educate writers and that one day it might actually cause *gasp* the PUBLISHERS to make a change. By offering standardized, ethical contracts. Because until then, I really do want to hear why successful authors have made the switch to self-pub.
I'm sorry if I got carried away (above) but it's because there are reasons to be up in arms and some of the blogs have really shined a light to them.
Indiana Jim says
Putting Konrath and Eisler on a "do not buy" list because they're outspoken about the publishing cartel is certainly your prerogative, but frankly they are KILLING it independently, and they do the math. You can argue with they're delivery, but not their facts. Everyone on the other side frames their arguments in esoteric dependency rhetoric and emotion.
The key point in this piece is a good one: you must decide what is best for you, no one else. Just don't whine when it doesn't work out the way you hoped.
Naja Tau says
I'm a big fan of Konrath, but I get tired of arguing too. I think writing attracts chippy personalities, regardless of what subject they latch on to though. There are few other tools that will allow you to brood over your own thoughts and words like writing.
I completely agree that you could have wonderful results going indie, Nathan!
So, thanks for saying you the problem is more about the tone than the disagreement.
I agree tone is a problem I wish some people would be more careful, they can alienate the people they are reaching out to – as you said. I wish Konrath, for example, would re-consider. He's brilliant, but he's setting an example of tone and people are following it. It's unfortunate, because it can pit author against authors, which is frankly only going to strengthen the industry he fights against. But I am certainly glad he's fighting for authors, regardless.
I also wonder if some of the tone issues are growing pains, as people work out this new landscape.
So, I do disagree with you on an important point here, though, Nathan. It's always alittle tough for me to disagree on your blog. Please know that my disagreement doesn't mean any lack of respect for you or your blog.
So, here's my disagreement. I don't think people are having trouble with tone alone. I think it's the content. I'll give an example. I'm going to say everything I believe about traditional publishing in as neutral a tone as possible. But I wonder if it would still label me as having a chip on my shoulder.
This is what I've learned by listening to authors who have worked for traditional publishers. To the best of my knowledge, the following are TRUE:
Publisher exploit authors. They steal money from authors (both literally and figuratively). They have contracts with hidden clauses that steal money and rights from authors. They treat authors as if they were interchangable, unimportant entities. They infantalize authors. They steal e-book rights. They steal backlist rights. They make decisions about authors' books that hurt the authors' ability to make sales, and undermine the authors ability to reach the right audience. They treat the author badly by ignoring their opinion and forcing them to work to deadlines, while they themselves have few deadlines. They put authors into bookstores with no support, and then drop them from their list if the author doesn't make money, something that killed careers in the past. They (allegedly) colluded to fix prices that resulted in less money for authors. They have extremely simliar contracts and rate structures and fit the definition of a cartel.
So, what do you think? I think my tone on this comment was okay, although some words like 'steal' adn 'exploit' were alittle perjorative, but it was impossible to make my point without using those words.
If what I said above got reactions, its because it was breaking taboos. Long standing taboos in the publishing culture, taboos against an author criticizing publishers. And whenever taboos are broken, people get angry and defenders rise up to reinforce the taboos because it feels safer (even though it may not really be safer). Which makes everyone angry, and camps form, people get ostracized and targeted and everyone gets all upset.
It's called social change.
There's a saying by Arthur Schopenhauer.
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident".
Helen W. Mallon says
It's really helpful to stand outside and watch the feathers fly.
Balance. That's what we need. Thanks.
Terin Tashi Miller says
I had a big long rant I've decided not to write.
You're right. But so is Mira.
See? No chip.
But would this discussion even merit attention if traditional publishers weren't the ones with the defensive attitude?
That said, like someone else was saying, I still try the traditional route with books I think might interest a publisher. Like a biography of my cousin, "Stinky," who lives on the Jersey Shore…
Nathan Bransford says
I actually disagree on substance more than tone. Sure, in the worst of worst case scenarios some authors have been subjected to what you've described. But by and large there's a reason authors have in the past and still continue to choose traditional publishers – they do better for the author than they can on that own.
Now, maybe that calculus is changing for some writers. Every situation is different. But the idea that there is some mass exploitation happening and that authors are being conscripted into some traditional publishing cabal and self-publishing is a blissful relief from all that… I disagree.
I couldn't have done Jacob Wonderbar on my own. I like my publisher. Like any author I have my frustrations with the process, but I also recognize that I'm way better off having had a traditional than without. I may well choose to go on my own for future projects, but it's all about what's best for an individual project. Again, I couldn't have done Jacob Wonderbar on my own.
Sure – publishers don't always act in an authors' best interest. Sometimes there are disagreements. Sometimes publishers are wrong. But I trust all authors to decide what's best for their own career, whether that's traditional publishing or self-publishing.
Sheila Cull says
I'm going to quote you. This is it, in a nutshell. Self-Publishing is a circle, I think a waste of time.
Here it is –
Nathan Bransford said, "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."
Sheila Cull says
I'M SAYING THAT WHAT YOU WROTE, YOU WROTE SO WELL THAT YOU GOT TO SAY IT IN A NUTSHELL, (DIDN'T SPLIT SENTENCES INTO GRAPHS).
AND I'M SO, SO, SORRY ABOUT THE ACCIDENTAL REPEATED POSTS. WORK ON THAT, IN PROGRESS.
Sheila Cull says
I'M SAYING THAT WHAT YOU WROTE, YOU WROTE SO WELL THAT YOU GOT TO SAY IT IN A NUTSHELL, (DIDN'T SPLIT SENTENCES INTO GRAPHS).
AND I'M SO, SO, SORRY ABOUT THE ACCIDENTAL REPEATED POSTS. WORK ON THAT, IN PROGRESS.
Yes, I understand that we disagree about this. I think we always have, from when I first came to your blog. I think the second time I posted on your blog I was ranting about the exploitation of writers by the publishing industry, and calling for reform, and I've pretty much kept that up since then.
I will say that I am genuinely very happy that you've had a good experience in publishing! That's wonderful, Nathan. I want that for you – I want all your publishing experiences to be wonderful.
I also don't have a problem with anyone else publishing traditionally, as long as they are fully informed. I may secretly think they are nuts, but hey, it's their choice, and I'll support them.
So, in general I know my statements were strong, but that was sort of the point I was making. People are trying to influence the future, and other people may be trying to influence it in the exact opposite way, and there is alot at stake, so feelings are running high.
The question is, at the end of the day, even if we see things very differently, can we still agree to disagree and stay friendly as writers?
I hope so!
Rejection might not be personal, but it sure feels that way. Nevertheless, I'll gladly take rejection…
Worse than rejection, to me anyway, is indifference – a word I feel better describes many agents.
Other Lisa says
Wow…Mira, I have to strongly disagree with your statement starting with "publishers cheat authors" and going on through that entire paragraph. Yes, there are some bad actors in the traditional publishing world. Yes, as Nathan said, there are frustrations inherent in the process. And yes, books get dropped into the marketplace without sufficient support (one of my major beefs with the industry as it stands). But I have never had a single experience like the ones you state as being pervasive throughout the industry. Not one.
And this doesn't mean that I have anything against self-publishing. I'm curious to try out the hybrid model myself (some traditional, some self-publishing) — I know authors who are doing that and really enjoying the best of both worlds.
Do I think there are problems in the industry? Absolutely. Pervasive dishonesty and criminal behavior? No.
I work with great people. Ethical, smart, creative and genuine believers in their authors and their books. That's been my experience in traditional publishing, for what it's worth.
Lisa, are you with a major publishing house? I thought you were with a smaller publishing house. That's a totally different thing.
I was talking about the Big 6 plus a few other major publishers.
I probably should have made that clear, sorry.
In terms of why I made those statements, I got all of my information reading tons of posts from legacy published authors talking about their experiences. And yes, they report publishers stealing from them, stealing rights and stealing money both literally and figuratively (by figuratively, I mean ridiculously low royalty rates, setting prices on books too high, delaying checks, etc.)
But I didn't mean to imply that bad, unethical, evil people work at publishing houses, even the Big 6. I'm sure terrific people work there. I'm talking about the place they work for, the upper eschelon, not them.
Other Lisa says
Mira, I am with a mid-sized publishing house here in the States (it's gotten a little too big to be called small any more) and one of the Big Six in the UK.
Here's the thing: I talk to a lot of traditionally published authors. We trade stories and experiences. There's a lot of bitching, like you'd expect. There is also a lot of praise. What there isn't, is a high incidence of reporting thievery and/or blatant dishonesty.
I do know of a few houses where really hinky things went on that I think fit the characterization you made of publishing as a whole. All three of them are largely romance publishers, and none of them are actually Big Six (I don't think).
I could go through my list of how I think traditional publishing could and should improve (as a side note: I really dislike the term "legacy" publishing. It's use is too often indicative of an agenda, which is what we're trying to avoid here).
If you asked most authors, I think you'd hear a lot about more consistent marketing support and higher eBook royalties. You'd hear about not overpaying for titles at the expense of just about every other book in the house.
My US publisher is an actual independent publisher (don't get me started on the use of "indie"–if I self-publish, I will call it "self-published"), and I think their business model is really smart, and that Big Six houses could learn from it.
The biggest problem with the Big Six, IMO, is the corporate structure they are a part of and how that encourages short term thinking, but I don't want to get too off-topic here, and that's a very tough problem to untangle, in any case.
I just think that generalizing about pervasive illegal business practices and exploitation is a mistake, and it doesn't fit the experiences I've had in publishing.
FWIW, my Big Six UK publisher asked me for feedback on their cover concepts. They asked me if I was willing to be involved in advertising brainstorming and the like. They've been a delight. I have no idea if my stuff will sell well enough for them to be able to make the business decision to continue working with me, but I can't complain about the experience.
Lisa, I'm heading off to bed, so I'll respond more fully tomorrow. I'm glad we do agree about the lack of support, etc. 🙂 but here's a quick point. The Department of Justice and 36 (?) States sued the Big 5 for illegal activity just last month. Big huge lawsuit. I believe for criminal illegal activity. And yes, I'm talking about other types of illegal activity here, but just wanted to mention that.
And I've heard some nice things about UK publishers although not enough to have an opinion.
Other Lisa says
Mira, I do know about the DoJ lawsuit. I'll just say there are arguments to be made on both sides, and leave it at that.
Nobody likes a loudmouthed jerk. Well, I don't anyway 😉
Marilyn Peake says
aeThe Department of Justice has brought a lawsuit against five of the Big Six publishers, publishing giant Rupert Murdoch is in serious legal trouble for a phone-hacking scandal and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has filed for bankruptcy while Amazon has struck a deal with Waterstones to sell Kindles and is in the process of opening their own bookstores. People, and not just authors, are talking about these issues, not because they're envious, but because these are important issues, almost as important as what is going on with Wall Street and mega-corporations. I find it interesting thspeak uas the big publishing houses are in serious trouble both legally and financially, blog posts are chastising self-published authors to mind their manners. If writers don't speak up, who will?
Marilyn Peake says
Well, that may just be the last time I try posting a comment from my tablet. My last comment was apparently turned partially into gibberish when I tapped the screen. I will re-post it here from my computer…
The Department of Justice has brought a lawsuit against five of the Big Six publishers, publishing giant Rupert Murdoch is in serious legal trouble for a phone-hacking scandal and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has filed for bankruptcy while Amazon has struck a deal with Waterstones to sell Kindles and is in the process of opening their own bookstores. People, and not just authors, are talking about these issues, not because they're envious, but because these are important issues, almost as important as what is going on with Wall Street and mega-corporations. I find it interesting that just as the big publishing houses are in serious trouble both legally and financially, blog posts are chastising self-published authors to mind their manners. If writers don't speak up, who will?
Marilyn Peake says
"Do I think there are problems in the industry? Absolutely. Pervasive dishonesty and criminal behavior? No."
That's not what's in the news. I think one of the main problems is that traditionally published authors only know the really nice people who work really, really hard day in and day out at the bottom rungs of the mega-publishing-corporations. There are very nice people working in all the bottom rungs of all types of corporations and in Wall Street and insurance companies. That doesn't mean there isn't pervasive dishonesty and criminal behavior. That's for the courts to decide, as they have access to far greater evidence than any worker bee does.
Nikole Hahn says
Agree. I am so tired of reading and hearing that chip on the shoulder. My goal is traditional publishing, but I know many nice self-pubs who don't have a chip on their shoulder, but I also have witnessed the ones that do. It doesn't make me want to get to know them at writers groups or conferences; I won't visit those blogs or read their books. I won't review their books. That's how much of a turn off it is for me. I like people. I just don't like artsy people who think every word is too holy to edit. ;o)
Rebecca Jones says
I'm firmly 'on the fence' with this one. If I've got an excellent story- I'm confident that it's got legs, and I've shown it to others and they generally feel the same way, my first step will always be to make sure that the workmanship is good. When I've got a cracking story, well told, I'll send it via appropriate 'traditional' routes. If I'm rejected, I can either decide that they were right and live with it, or I can entertain the idea that, perhaps, on this occasion, the experts (I use the word without any sarcasm or irony whatsoever) called it wrong.
I'm not against self-publishing. In fact, I think it's perfectly healthy to have mechanisms which exist so that writers can challenge what can seem a very autocratic separation of 'x is good, y is bad, x will sell, y won't' etc. However, I do agree that it is often used as a way of getting work out there when it just isn't ready. And a writer simply MUST learn to turn rejection into bread and water- just taking it personally and allowing that feedback to go to waste is not making anyone a better writer.
But what can traditional publishers take away from the increased popularity of self-publishing? I don't want to sound like one of the 'chippies' you refer to (I really do believe I am a professional, able to face up to the quality of my work with maturity), but perhaps traditional publishers should be using this as an opportunity to learn a little more about THEIR processes and ways of working. No-one expects them to sign onto work which is woeful, badly written and harder to sell than an England strip to a Glaswegian, but in order to retain their position as The Voice of what is 'good' and what is 'bad', I think they should make it their business to see this issue as a two-way street, rather than just some rejected, 'chippy' writers going off in a teenage-style strop and self-publishing because the establishment said no.
I would always try the traditional route first, but I would certainly go to self-publishing if I was that convinced that I had something worthwhile. I wouldn't consider that an arrogant action, and I would hope that any perspective readers or future publishers would be open-minded enough to recognise that I simply took advantage of the fact that there are now more 'ways to the Lord' than through publishing houses. It would never be a 'step one' for me, though.
Incidentally, I'm not sure I've ever encountered any of the arrogance that some people have obviously encountered around self-publishing- I will assume I've either been very lucky or very ignorant! In fact, most of the people I know who've chosen the self-publishing route have the advantage of sufficient previous rejection to inform their decision and to create a more discerning writer and editor- and perhaps even more so than some writers who have found publication with traditional publishers with marginally less trouble.
Thanks for an honest and insightful blog, Nathan!
Sommer Leigh says
I very much agree with this post. Some of the most unpleasant people I've met online are ones who railed violently against traditional publishing like traditional publishing had come to their house personally and kicked their puppy. I'm done with a conversation as soon as someone starts demonizing those evil agents or worse, how gullible and naive the people are signing contracts with them. It makes me a little nuts when writers are belittled for wanting to go the traditional route, as if we do it only because we seek approval and a pat on the head, not because we don't have the personality or time to successfully pursue self publishing.
I don't think this rant is an all or nothing deal – it's not all self publishing authors are jerks who need to chill out and it's not all traditional published authors look down on self published authors from their ivory tower.
I think we're all playing the same game, on the same team, no matter who sponsors us. We all still deserve respect and honest discussion and an honest desire to enact change is not the same thing as setting a publishing house on fire and declaring, "I WIN. YOU SUCK."
Marilyn said: "If writers don't speak up, who will?"
Thanks! I couldn't agree more. I appreciate the information you added!
Lisa – Sorry to drop the ball last night, I was so tired, I'm not sure my last post even made sense.
First, I'm really happy that you're happy with your publishing experiences. And I love hearing you may go hybrid. Good luck! 🙂
I brought up the DOJ lawsuit (I checked and it's 31 States, not 36) because anti-trust activities is a criminal offense under Federal law which carries a penalty of up to three years in prision and/or up to 10 million dollars in damages, not counting what the States may sue for.
For a summary and an actual copy of the complaint, as well as a look at the evidence that publishers did do this, you can go here: https://www.thepassivevoice.com/05/2012/17-more-states-sue-apple-and-major-publishers-for-price-fixing/
In terms of what I said about illegal action and exploitation, I mentioned in my intial comment my information was based on what I've read on the web. So, it may be that you and I are hearing different things because your friends may have different experiences.
It's always possible I'm wrong, but I can't really back down or change my mind here, because I didn't experience this personally (I'm not published). It's not hard data, it's anecdotal.
I don't know how pervasive it is, but I've read several posts about each one of these problems. And I also don't think it's an adequate defense of publishers to say that this type of thing only happens in unusual cases. It should never happen.
Since both you and Nathan questioned the accuracy of what I said, I'll give alittle more detail of what I heard. Where I got this: I read this in comments on blogs like Konrath, the Passive Guy, and other indie writer blogs. It makes sense I would find those stories there, since these writers are usually pretty unhappy with what they've experienced and would look for a safe place to talk about it.
So, details (I'll limit this to the criminal activities ones):
Publishers steal money from writers: I've read about situations where publishers play with the return policy, withholding the "reserve against returns" thereby keeping money that should have been returned to the author.
Publishers steal e-book rights: I've read of many instances where publishers have retroactively grabbed e-book rights for books that were published prior to the e-book technology. Recently a writer wrote that her publisher sent her a letter congratulating her for joining their e-book program. She never negotiated this.
Publishers steal backlist rights: I've read several accounts where publishers try to hold onto backlists, sometimes resulting in law suits that the writer wins (the ones I've read about). I've also heard about publishers simply delaying the return of rights for huge chunks of time, at least a year or more. This withholds potential income from the author.
They have contracts with hidden clauses: I was talking about Harlequin here. I'll admit I have not heard this about the Big Six, although I do hear their contracts are completely unfair to the writer.
Btw, Konrath today takes on the problems in writer contracts: https://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
Problem with his tone or not, if you are a writer, you'd be smart to read his blog. His information is extremely important.
Authors signed these contracts in the past and worked with the Big Six because they really had no choice. They do now. And it is very important that authors have all the information so they can make informed choices. Writers need to be informed!!!!
So, I hope that addressed what you were saying, Lisa!
More likely is the corporate publishing house which has a chip on the shoulder, not authors.
But the groveling sycophants on this blog who bring "kiss ass" to new altitudes will hate my comment.
Truth is: Nathan's views about self-published authors are irrelevant. Who is he to chastise independent authors?
Yeah, he's all for self publishing …yeah right, give me a break.
He whines about one's chip on the shoulder when he has a log on his own, as evidenced by this condescending post.
Now go back to publishing corporate crap like "Marley and Me" and "Eat, Pray, Love" and leave independent authors alone.
Anon from 7:33AM, Nathan's post doesn't chastise indie authors, nor is it condescending. He's giving helpful advice, and apparently you know it's helpful. Otherwise, you wouldn't have posted the above rant anonymously.
This is exactly what Nathan was blogging about, that you should be careful what image you project online.
Heck, it doesn't matter if you're indie published or not or even if you're a writer.
I was recently telling my daughter that a future employer might some day look her up on Google. Does she want that employer to see she made rants like yours above? I don't think so.
We'd all be smart to project the right image online, one that might not turn around and bite us in the ass somewhere down the line.
So if you really believed that Nathan is wrong and writers should write any kind of nonsense online without any care as to how it might affect their careers later on, you would have put your name to your words. The fact that you didn't shows you know Nathan is right.
I have mixed feelings about all of this. While I love that self-publishing offers another route for authors in the same way that I love how Kickstarter allows filmmakers and other artists to get funding and eliminate the middleman, I would probably still go with traditional publishing, just like I would probably pitch to Hollywood rather than make an independent film.
Really, I think it boils down to what advantages you want and what disadvantages you're willing to live with.
Nathan Bransford says
Of course there are people who have had bad experiences, and of course people should know what they sign. I still disagree with what you're saying.
Reserve against returns are a customary practice, and they are accounted for on royalty statements. Yes, sometimes disreputable publishers take advantage of this. By and large this system works.
The standard publishing clauses Konrath tackles are standard. A publisher is investing in publishing your book in exchange for certain rights. Publishers are investing money and risk while there is no risk to you. There's a tradeoff that happens there.
Sometimes rights situations are ambiguous and yes, sometimes publishers make rights grabs in those situations. That's why it's important for authors to have effective representation. It's ultimately an authors' responsibility to fight for their own rights. Contracts are legal documents and if an author is in the right they will prevail. Authors are responsible for knowing what they sign. Those aren't criminal activities.
As for the DOJ lawsuit, while I disagreed with the agency model, most agents and the Authors' Guild supported the publishers' actions. That's evidence that publishers are trying to stick it to authors? How?
Just because some bad things happen to some people doesn't mean the entire enterprise is flawed. Some people get hit by cars, it doesn't mean you shouldn't enter a crosswalk.
Look, I have my frustrations with publishers and I've expressed them on this blog. But I'm really surprised at your beliefs. Authors do now have a choice and some are still choosing traditional publishing. Yeah, Kornath has done well self-publishing, but let's keep that in perspective – even the very top self-published authors aren't anywhere approaching the ballpark of the Pattersons, Kings, Meyers, Collinses of the world. Are those authors just hoodwinked too?
Wow, such heated debate.
I think Mira goes a little far in using the phrase "publishers steal" in the sense they do this all the time. There are cases where their contracts are unfair but there are also cases where they are fair.
However, I have to disagree when Nathan says, ""But I trust all authors to decide what's best for their own career, whether that's traditional publishing or self-publishing."
Authors are not contract lawyers and newbie authors especially are not familiar with publishing contract lingo. Therefore, they rely heavily on agents to get them a fair deal. Many agents fail to do so. Trivializing the complexity of contracts is completely one-sided (for publishers) in my opinion. Standardized contracts or better information on what those clauses mean are vital. Konrath is spreading that important information, so whether you like his tone or not, he is doing writers a great service.
Another thought: just because something is "standard" does not mean it is fair. Let's take the example of reversion of rights. In the past, it worked out because stores would not continue to print books that weren't selling well. Now with ebooks, authors might never get their rights back for out of print books. So what was standard is no longer fair because of a loophole.
Nathan Bransford says
But ultimately it's up to authors to understand what they're signing and what's customary, whether they have an agent or not. I really truly believe authors must take responsibility for their own careers and that includes finding out what's customary and what's not, agent or no. I totally agree it's important to spread information about what contract clauses mean.
Nathan – sorry for the delay in my response. Work is crazy today.
Well, here's what I think I see in reading your response. We somewhat agree about the data and disagree about the conclusion. I think that's right, please let me know if doesn't fit for you.
Examples where I think we agree:
You say disreputable publishers can take advantage of returns. That publishers can make rights grabs in some situations. You acknowledge the DOJ lawsuit.
But your conclusion is: "Just because some bad things happen doesn't mean the system is entire enterprise is flawed."
Okay, fair enough. This is where we disagree.
You support the current system and think it works overall, but might like to make some changes.
I do not support the current system and think it is broken, and would like a major overhaul.
Where we do agree is that people can make the best decisions for themselves and it's very important they be given all of the relevant information in order to do so.
You know, part of the issue with the current debate is that people really do sincerely see things differently.
So, that's how I would sum our argument.
(I want to add something. I debated going line by line with you about the content, but….well, I still will, if you want. I don't want you to feel as though I'm dodging the issues, I just wasn't sure it would go anywhere other than making us mad at each other, and I don't want that. Sorry it's probably driving you nuts I keep making this personal, but it's hard for me to be at odds with you, it just is, so there you go).
Totally agree about the tone, Nathan. Authors these days sell themselves as much as they sell their books. So much of that is about radiating goodwill and being the kind of person people want to buy from. I know there are writers I have no interest in reading because what I've seen of their personalities turns me off. I don't much care whether they're published by one of the Big Six or self-published.
Personally, I think if we can't rely on agents to negotiate good contracts and point out gotchas in the legalese, there is a lot less reason to have one. I for one have a whole new list of questions I plan to ask an agent before signing with one. And yes, self-publishing is the alternative all authors have in their back pocket. If a writer brings these things up when an agent wants to represent them, does that mean the writer has "a chip on her shoulder"?
Suzanne Anderson says
I've had exactly the opposite experience….I've met traditionally published authors who act as if THEY have a chip on their shoulder, or look down on, those of us who've indie-published. I met one soon to be published author who has a blog where she regularly interviews fellow authors….but has a standing policy not to do interviews with indie-authors.
I'm getting my second book ready for publication and absolutely love the self-publishing experience. Yes, it may be more difficult than having a publishing house behind me, but I also think it also presents wonderful opportunities.
Instead of waiting for an agent to pick my book, and then in turn sell it to a publishing house, and to see if they choose to put marketing muscle behind it or just let it linger, I get to publish my book as soon as it's ready.
Yes I am solely responsible for the marketing but guess what? my local bookstore is now carrying my first book! How awesome is that?!
rebecca koo says
Great post! Thank you so much. Well said without being a rant and with a great balance which makes your points all the more digestible! As a beginner muddling through this changing industry, I found this incredibly helpful.
Other Lisa says
Er, Take 2!
Look, I probably rail on about the evils of corporate oligarchy as much as anyone out there. More, even!
But telling me that I am naive, that I only deal with nice people and not the evil-doers at the top who are exploiting authors, I'm not sure how to respond other than to say, I am a person with some actual experience inside this system. Maybe that should count for something? And if my experiences aren't relevant, how about Nathan's? Or the many other authors with whom I've discussed the business?
As Nathan said, the Authors Guild, that organization dedicated to exploiting authors everywhere, came out against the DoJ lawsuit. There are some good reasons for that.
I'll also echo what Nathan said here: authors need to understand their business, the contracts they sign and the implications for their careers. That won't protect you against out and out malfeasance, but it will help you make better decisions for your particular circumstances.