From author Barry Eisler:
This past Saturday, I gave one of the keynotes at the 21st annual Pike’s Peak Writers Convention (great conference and I highly recommend it to other writers). During my talk, I shared some thoughts on the choices writers have today in publishing — thoughts which, judging from some of the Twitter comments I’ve seen, have caused a bit of upset here and there.
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- The primary value-add offered by legacy publishers has traditionally been paper distribution. Certainly legacy publishers offer many other services (much of which is outsourced) — editorial, copyediting, proofreading, book packaging, and marketing, to name the most obvious — but the primary service, the one the others are built on, has always been paper distribution.
- The advent of digital book distribution means that today, not all authors need a paper distribution partner. Authors can reach (and thousands of authors are reaching) a mass audience in digital by self-publishing instead (a third option, Amazon publishing, combines elements of both systems).
. . . .
- It’s important to compare the reality of one system to the reality of the other. Too often, people compare the reality of self-publishing to the ideal of legacy publishing, and such a skewed comparison doesn’t yield useful results. The most useful way to look at the choice between legacy publishing and self-publishing, therefore, is as a choice between two kinds of lottery, each with different odds, different kinds of payouts, and different overall advantages and disadvantages.
. . . .
Nonetheless, one literary agent in the audience, Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank, tweeted that I was “offering up bullshit” in suggesting that a legacy publisher’s primary value is paper distribution. Because this is an exceptionally important point of disagreement, I’d like to talk about it a bit more.
As I’ve noted, an author who wants to reach a mass audience in paper needs a paper distribution partner. But an author who wants to reach a mass audience in digital needs no distribution partner at all. It is simply a fact — a fact — that a lone author can distribute 100% as effectively by herself as she can with the assistance of a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate (again, editing, marketing and all the rest is a separate story; for the moment, we are talking only about distribution).
To put it another way: a publisher offering an author digital distribution services is like someone offering me air. I already have it and I don’t need to pay extra for it. I know it can be unsettling in some circles to have the matter stated so baldly, but I really don’t think the matter is disputable, either. In digital, as Clay Shirky has said, “Publishing is a button.”
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I think it’s difficult to argue other than that paper distribution has traditionally been legacy publishing’s primary value-add, and I’m surprised that such an anodyne observation could provoke controversy, let alone consternation. Maybe in some circles, putting it so plainly just isn’t the done thing? It’s bad manners to depart from pretty talk about how legacy publishers “nurture” authors, and to focus instead on actual value? I’m not sure.
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Agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Lit recommended that Fairbank “Stop listening! Save yourself!” Agent Janet Reid of Janet Reid Literary advised that it’s a mistake to even attend a conference where I’m speaking (apparently it’s not sufficiently protective to boycott just me; you have to boycott the entire conference). Agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Larson Pomada tweeted that she wanted to walk out, though she didn’t. Agent Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary tweeted, “I had to be restrained in my seat. What a douche!” (Goldblatt subsequentlyretracted the name-calling aspect). Fairbank also claimed that a Random House editor left early, fuming, rather than listen to my presentation.
(Apparently, you didn’t even have to know what was said to know it was bad: author Lauren Dane offered up a variety of reactions, suggesting talks like mine are “insulting,” “condescending,” “smug,” and “dismissive,” before acknowledging, “Oh, I do want to say, I wasn’t there. I only saw one quote that I have no other context for so I could totally be reading it wrong.” Indeed. Why let a lack of any relevant knowledge get in the way of a chance to offer a string of public opinions?)
These reactions, and the attitudes behind them, aren’t just immature. They’re also fundamentally unhealthy. How can agents and editors serve writers in a dramatically changing industry if they refuse to listen to new and contrary views?
Link to the rest at The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing
There is a lot more to Barry’s comment, but is PG the only one who thinks that this “nurturing” business sounds just plain weird? He’s heard the term used elsewhere to describe one of the most important things an agent or publisher does for an author.
Does nurturing even belong in a healthy business relationship?
PG says maybe some baby authors want nurturing, but most grown-up authors don’t. If you simply must have nurturing, maybe a dog or cat is a better idea than an agent or publisher. They’ll love you to pieces and never ask for a contract (unless the cat hires an attorney).
Like many things in traditional publishing, maybe you get nurturing whether you want it or not.
Here’s an idea. Let’s make nurturing an à la carte option that the author can pay for:
Agency Commission – 15% with nurturing, 7.5% without nurturing
Publisher Ebook Royalties – 25% with nurturing, 50% without nurturing