Author Karen Traviss has published a slew of successful books, from her own Wess’har Wars series to a number of Star Wars, Halo and Gears of War novels. But for her new techno-thriller Going Grey, she decided to walk away from a mainstream publishing contract and self-publish. She explains why.
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“Nobody else is going to do it for you.”
It was deceptively simple advice given to a group of aspiring writers at the MSU Clarion workshop. The wise words about taking charge of your own career came from author Suzy McKee Charnas: and one of the writers was me.
Brace for a few numbers. I like numbers. After 24 novels with Big Five publishers, 12 of them NYT best-sellers, I took Suzy’s words to heart and withdrew my 25th novel – Going Grey – from the schedule of a Big Five house and released it independently. The whole Ringer series will now follow the same route.
When my first book was published ten years ago, the technology to do that didn’t exist. The ability to sell e-books, paperbacks, and audio editions globally without the need for a middleman is something that’s only recently become a realistic alternative.
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But mention indie publishing – direct publishing, self publishing, call it what you will – and you’ll still trigger knee-jerk frothing among writers in opposing camps. Some of that is fuelled by partisan reactions to Amazon, the main driver of the rapid growth of the independent sector. One camp claims Amazon is the evil empire that destroyed bookstores, and all the indies it’s spawned are people who can’t get published any other way: the other camp says Amazon has dismantled the Berlin Wall of giant publishers and retailers – “Big Publishing” – to give more freedom to more writers.
Readers rarely care or even know who your publisher is, though. Why should they? Publishing is packaging and distribution. Consumers’ rational concerns are what’s in the package and how much it costs.
I’m in neutral territory, or at least I’ve seen both sides of the razor wire. I’m a commercial author who’s sold a lot of books through the Big Five. But I’m also an ex-journalist with a critical eye on big corporations, and I’ve had my share of bad experiences with traditional publishing. What follows is a non-partisan account of why more writers like me are finally waking up to another way to do business.
Initially, my decision to publish Going Grey independently related to a specific problem; it was taking too long to get it on sale, and I wasn’t willing to wait any longer. It was only after I acted that I realised how much the industry had changed, and how naive I’d been to think Big Publishing would look after my interests because I made money for it.
The traditional publishing industry is getting a serious kicking these days. It’s a common pattern in business. An industry enjoys a protected existence for years, mergers force the eggs into fewer baskets, and the players get complacent and flabby. They overlook new technologies and bolder business models creeping up on them – in this case, Amazon. Publishers thought they were the creators of books and that their customers were the book stores. They forgot that that authors are the sole source of books and that the only paying customers are readers. Everyone else in the food chain is replaceable.
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I’ve had some unpleasant experiences with publishers, including breached contracts and books left marooned “in print” but unobtainable, but I’ve fared better than many other writers. I’ve never had to languish in a slush pile, I’ve had advances well above the average, and I’ve never really been stopped from writing what I wanted. I never reached the stage where a publisher wrecked a book or buried my career, unlike friends I’ve seen sunk by inexplicable decisions and foul-ups.
But I’ve made more in royalties from one moderately successful, short-run franchise comic series than I’ve made in ten years of royalties from novels, more than half of which were best-sellers. That illustrates the reality of traditional publishing even for apparently successful authors. Unless you’re one of a small handful of mega best-selling writers, you’re not the one getting rich off your work.
Link to the rest at io9 and thanks to Chris and several others for the tip.
Here’s a link to Karen Traviss’ books