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Yog’s Law and Self-Publishing

21 June 2014

From John Scalzi:

Many years ago, writer Jim Macdonald postulated “Yog’s Law,” a handy rule of thumb for writers about the direction money is meant to flow in publishing:

“Money flows toward the writer.”

This is handy because it will give the writer pause when she has a publisher (or agent, or editor) who says that in order to get published, the author needs to lay out some cash up front, and to that publisher/agent/editor. The author can step back, say, huh, this is not how Yog’s Law says it’s supposed to go, and then surmise, generally correctly, that the publisher/agent/editor in question is a scam artist and that she should run away as fast as her feet will carry her.

But does Yog’s Law apply in an age where many writers — and some even successfully — are self-publishing via digital?

. . . .

Connolly is correct that the rise of digital self-publishing puts a new wrinkle on things. I disagree, however, that it means Yog’s Law no longer generally holds. I think it does, but with a corollary for self-publishers:

Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer.

Self-Pub Corollary to Yog’s Law: While in the process of self-publishing, money and rights are controlled by the writer.

Which is to say that when the self-published writer pays for editorial services, she’s at the head of the process; she’s employing the editor or copy editor or cover artist or whomever, and she’s calling the shots. If she’s smart she’s listening to them and allowing them to the job she’s paid them for, but at the end of the day the buck stops — literally — with her. This differs from the various scammy publishers, who would take the money and the author’s work, and then would effectively disappear down a dark hole,

Link to the rest at Whatever and thanks to Sandra for the tip.


18 Comments to “Yog’s Law and Self-Publishing”

  1. Yup!

  2. I just need to find the point where money flows to this writer. 🙂


  3. Not agreeing with the change, as slight as it may seem to some folks.

    Just because I pay for the services of editors and cover artists that doesn’t mean that Yog’s Law changes.

    I say this because I pay up-front for these services. Those people don’t get a slice of my royalties.

    The money comes to the writer; writer pays her bills.

    Actually, in a perfect scenerio, an agent should be paid the same way – if one wishes to hire an agent. Or a POD publisher.

    Some may argue that I’m splitting hairs. But better to split hair than royalties.


    • I agree with you. Yog’s law is still the same. When self-publishing, you hire services as needed while acting as a publisher. Money received from sales then indeed does travel to the writer, the same as with a traditional publisher: after the expenses are covered. There’s no difference other than the writer is also the publisher.

  4. There’s so much confusion of terms and concepts, some of it willful and distorting, but much of it the natural result of rapid change. Sometime in the past, publishers apparently paid advances sufficient to live on while the writer wrote the book. The idea was that the publisher would nurture the development of the new talent by freeing the writer from the distraction of a day job. I don’t know if it ever worked that way for writers of genre fiction like me (I write mysteries.) Back when I started seeking an agent — way back in the early aughts — everyone told me not to expect more than a $10K advance. I couldn’t live on that then; even if I could, everyone said, “You should spend it all on publicity or you won’t sell enough books and your publisher will drop you.” So it wasn’t money to live on; it was money to invest in my writing business.

    The idea that traditional publishing is “free” to authors has a been a myth for some time. When you abandon the myth and decide to become an independent author, you effectively choose to launch a micro-press — a small business. You wouldn’t open a taco stand without a small outlay of capital, would you? Rent, tortillas, charcoal for your comal. Why shouldn’t writers expect to need a little grease to get their careers rolling?

    The money flows toward the writer when her sales exceed her costs. For indies, the math is simple. In the traditional scheme, you may never know.

    My $0.02, which I’ve already earned out.

    • Yep. I know plenty of traditionally published authors who spent all of their advance, or MORE than their advance, on marketing and publicity, because they feared being dropped if their sales didn’t dazzle. So much for Yog’s Law.

    • This.

      When a person writes, they are a writer. When a person self-publishes, they are acting as a publisher. And thus they take on a publisher’s responsibilities.

  5. I’ve been trying to convince the utility companies of the validity of this law for a long time. The people who have my car load should get behind it too.

    Actually it makes more sense as a principle than a law.

  6. According to Yog, (James D. Macdonald), self-publishing doesnt violate Yog’s Law:
    “Self-publishing is a subcategory of commercial publishing. The publisher is still paying for everything. The author is still getting the income. That the publisher’s pocket and the author’s pocket are in the same pair of pants is interesting but unimportant.”
    (cf. http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/013136.html )

    otherwise phrased (by one commenter under the Wahetevr post)
    “Even though the publisher’s and writer’s pockets are in the same pair of pants, there still needs to be a transfer of funds between them”.

  7. The problem with reformulating Yog’s Law for self-publishers is that you have to constantly keep in mind why the Mighty Yog came up with the law in the first place.

    The point is to protect writers from scammers. In traditional publishing, anybody who expected the writer to pay was a scammer. Pure and simple.

    With self-publishing, it’s more complicated — and I think Scalzi here has nailed it: anybody who wants a piece of you or your rights is, if not an actual scammer, at least is asking too much.

  8. The problem today isn’t anything to do with Yog’s Law. It’s to do with supposedly respectable companies in tradtional publishing operating some of the biggest scams in publishing.

    I really wish John Scalzi would come out strongly against Author Solutions. When Random House attempted to set awful terms for its digital-first imprints (Hydra, Flirt etc.) he led the SFWA in threatening to delist Random House unless they changed the terms – and it worked.

    He could have done something similar regarding Author Solutions, but I don’t remember him doing anything (someone please correct me if I’m wrong). And while he’s not the SFWA prez anymore but he still has a huge megaphone.

    I’d love to have seen him lead a similar charge against Penguin Random House for far worse abuses committed by Author Solutions, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him blog about Author Solutions (again, please correct me if I’m wrong).

    • Scalzi did speak out when Harlequin launched its vanity publishing arm a couple of years ago and the SFWA promptly delistet Harlequin and its regular imprints from the list of eligible publishers.

      However, like you I don’t recall him ever having explicitly spoken out against Author Solutions.

      • Kind of weird that he hasn’t blogged about Author Solutions since 2009, considering what he tends to blog about, don’t you think? Anyway, I’ve asked him in the comments if it’s a topic he intends to address.

  9. Or in other words, control should always flow to the writer.

    “By the standard of control flowing to the writer, most of the contracts coming out of New York fail miserably. That is not acceptable in an age where the New York publishers aren’t the only game in town. If a writer can make a living by going it on their own, then anyone who pays less than a living wage is basically running a scam.”

  10. One scam he didn’t mention is where an “editing” service asks for up-front money and then a % of sales forever.\

    Everyone’s free to charge as they see fit. If your rates are high enough compared to everyone else, though, your service is still a ripoff.

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