From Rachel Gardner, Literary Agent:

Whenever I (or other bloggers) write about marketplace realities in publishing, there are always a wide variety of responses, ranging from pragmatic acceptance to mournful disappointment to angry lament. My observation – and I could be wrong – is that the sad and mad responses are from writers whose passion for being published burns hot and bright, and whose publishing dreams have not yet been fulfilled. This is completely understandable, and I feel for you.

Many writers ache with the desire to hold a book in their hands that has their name beautifully printed across the cover. Many of you are nursing life-long visions of walking into Barnes & Noble and seeing your book on the front table. This business is all about our dreams, isn’t it?

I understand that. I am an absolute book-lover from childhood. I love books and bookstores, I love talking about books, I love spending Saturday afternoons reading books (not that I’ve been able to do that lately). I’ve written several published books, and edited many more. But what I don’t have – what I’ve never had – is a burning desire to see my name on the cover of a book. And I guess that’s why it’s easier for me to see publishing as a business.

. . . .

Publishing professionals – those who run publishing companies, those who edit and acquire books, those who represent authors – are on your side. By recognizing this as a business, they are not somehow evil, they are not somehow taking away from the beauty and purity of your art. They are, in fact, rooting for you, wanting you to show up with a wonderful book that others will enjoy reading. They have to look at the marketplace realities make decisions accordingly. They have to separate themselves from the emotion of it all and make plans and choices they hope will ensure the ongoing health and success of the publishing and bookselling industry.

We want to help your dreams come true. And everything I say here, everything I write on this blog, is with that goal in mind. All of the editors and agents who share their thoughts online are doing it with the same intent: to have dialogue, to keep communication open, to de-mystify publishing, to help educate and enlighten writers, to encourage them.

Link to the rest at Rachel Gardner, Literary Agent

PG has posted a few items from Rachel Gardner before and added some pungent comments.

This particular post makes him a little sad. While he definitely disagrees with some of her characterizations in the OP as he has with her previous posts, he thinks Ms. Gardner would be a perfectly pleasant person with whom to have a conversation on a topic other than the book business.

When she says she wants to help writers’ dreams to come true, he is persuaded that she really believes this is an important part of her work.

However, a great many authors with whom PG is acquainted want to earn a living as a writer. That’s a core part of their dream, far more important than visiting their books in a book store. And these authors are not living family estates, attending balls at neighborhood great houses and riding to hounds.

Many of the authors I’m thinking about want to earn a living from their writing and some would like to quit their day jobs so they can spend more time writing, working hard writing. They have no problems recognizing they are in a business and want to be very good at their business.

While these authors want to write very good books and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Perhaps PG runs in very different authorical circles, but none of the very good authors with whom he is acquainted wake up in the morning wanting to savor the “beauty and purity” of their art.

Further, these authors do not want to “separate themselves from the emotion of it all,” because their professional emotions are characterized by grit and determination and a refusal allow anything to interfere with their desire to write very good books that will appeal to a significant audience and to keep on writing them as their life’s work.

A growing transfer of funds into their business accounts every month is an important part of their dreams. Writing is not a hobby and writing books that others are happy to buy and enjoy is completely compatible with quitting their day job and being able to hire others to help them pursue their passion more effectively. They want to hold onto the steering wheel and decide how fast they want to go and where.

Emotionally and rationally, a great many authors PG knows don’t want to wait for somebody else to get their books in front of readers and decide what the cover will look like and set a price higher than they know many of their readers will want to pay.

Fortunately, Ms. Gardner avoided the n-word. Every time, PG hears about a publisher or an agent nurturing an author and her career, he wants to barf.

PG would rather be nurtured by an honest coal miner than by some condescending twit in New York.

That term and the attitude behind it is a gross insult to the indie authors PG knows and, in PG’s gargantuanly humble opinion should be chopped up and carted off to the same social destination where the other n-word has gone.

If any readers of this post, “ache with the desire to hold a book in their hands that has their name beautifully printed across the cover,” PG is sorry for your pain and prescribes Kindle Direct Publishing to alleviate your anguish. You could even buy a couple of cartons of KDP books with your name printed on the cover and writhe around on the floor with them for awhile.

104 thoughts on “Dreams”

  1. I clicked the link. Read the OP, and saw this, “For them, it’s more the overall love of the entire book world, and gratitude at being part of it.”

    As we say on this side of the pond, sod that for a bunch of monkeys.

  2. Dogs chase my truck on the dirt road from my trailer, until I hit the gravel road and then the pavement.

    So I’ve made it! Riding to hounds indeed!

    To PG: I’ve met some writer types with the publishing dream. I don’t get it. I show them what I do, what little I’ve done, my reviews and buys and all of that. It’s weird man. They don’t want it. I dunno what to say.

  3. I find stalking the amazon lists for how high your book might climb is quite satisfying (either the overall store or just in your category). I really don’t think about the physical book now. It’s just having it out there, available to read, that is my dream.
    (Not having to worry about contracts or go through hoops or worrying that the trad pub won’t really do anything for my book is an added bonus to this new world)

  4. It’s actually not that expensive to ride to hounds. Helps to live in the right places (e.g., northern Virginia). Just sayin’…

    On the one hand, I’m delighted by the growing pile of published books trailing behind me, both mine and the other authors I publish.

    On the other hand, they feel like Marley’s chains whenever I have to do something that requires me to touch all of them, like new marketing images, or ecommerce, or new editions. Alas, the “business” part of it does keep expanding and adding complications.

  5. From Rachel Gardner, a no longer needed/required/wanted Literary Agent …

    If she can’t convince new/ignorant/dumb writers that trad-pub is the only ‘true’ way to be published then there is no reason for the writers to seek her out and give up 15% to her.

    Her time of easy money from easy marks is running out and she knows it …

  6. I was reading Kriswrites, and I was astonished to learn the “writerly dream” of seeing your book in the bookstore is, as most things about writers, an invention of the publishers that DID NOT exist before B&N. So no, I don’t have the dream of seeing my book in B&N because I am not doing this for social status or accolades. I do it because I love writing, and I love making money doing something I love. The only accolades I need come in the form of sales that tell me I am doing it right.

    • The desire to see one’s name on a book and see it on bookstore shelves is the main animating force driving the majority of authors. It is not an invention of publishers and existed in writers’ hearts long before B&N grew to become a big chain.

    • No – no, bad writer!

      You love to write? This is a business dang it – we don’t care what you love.

      Publishers and agents are like day-traders that get their cut by getting between the writers and their readers. How dare you not care that they work hard to nurture and gate-keep what the readers are exposed to.

      Because of people like you B&N is sinking – because you’re stealing the eyes/hours/money that should have gone to the publishers and agents that get those books into bookstores! All those people you’re putting out of work by not supporting agents – how can you live with yourself?

      (Sorry, I just had to say something after seeing Peter’s bit, the only people that think that way are those that are into writing ‘only’ for the money. What upsets that type is that many more of us will write because we must – comments/money from readers we just see as a bonus. 😉 )


    • I left a comment on Kris’ blog post about that B & N dream. Here’s what I wrote:

      I have several nonfiction books that I contributed to sitting on the shelves at B&N. Once a couple years ago, I trudged across the teal carpeting, found the title, looked at my name on the cover, waited for something to happen inside. Nothing did. The world continued spinning on its axis. I shrugged and put it back on the shelf and walked away over to the cafe and got a coffee. Yay woo.

      Emotionally, it didn’t mean a thing. I’m so focused on the process – the next book, always always the next book – that the outcome doesn’t move me. I kind of wish it did. I wish I could get excited to see my name in print in an actual bookstore.

      I won’t really miss B&N, but I won’t rejoice either. All retail outlets are good outlets, to my point of view.

  7. I ended up reading the whole thing and got so mad I posted the following as a comment on the blog.

    “If publishers and agents are “clients” to the author then why do they take practically everything the author makes on a book for the rest of his life and beyond? When I hire someone to do something for me, I pay them, and they are done. I don’t give my gardener 15% of my house for the rest of his life.

    You’re lucky if you get a $2,500 advance these days and 12% on the sales. After the publisher has taken their cut, used your cut to pay back “the cost” and then given the agent their cut. All of whom may, or may not be stealing from you for years without you knowing. (Google Fight Club Author).

    And that’s IF the almighty arbiters of taste and decorum decide you’re “good enough” to publish. Because Snookie is a genius literary talent and ’50 Shades’ should replace Shakespear in our schools.

    The truth is, it is a business. The publishers and the agents have turned it into a ruthless business where the person with the drive, determination, and skill, who has worked their ass off their entire life, are paid the ABSOLUTE LEAST amount of money. And ONLY if they turn over all their rights to their work for the rest of their life +70 years.

    Yeah, you really sound like you’re on our side.

    The truth is, they are dying. No one needs them anymore. Consumers vote with their dollars and The Standard(TM) they always claim they are protecting doesn’t exist. Readers want good stories. They read them by the thousands. Sure there’s competition, but that’s true in every business. Worried you won’t stand out? Worried you don’t know how to market? Don’t worry, neither do the publishers. The only books they market are the ones they know will be hits. Unless your name ends in King, Patterson, or some famous person/politician, you won’t get marketing dollars.

    The rest of you will be pushed out at a discount, where your “deep discount’ clause will kick in, and you won’t get a cent off that sale in Costco. Then after they have your idea, they will refuse to publish your second book because “it didn’t meet expectations.” Which it never was going to because they didn’t spend any money marketing it, they gave it a crappy cover and put it in the wrong genre.

    And once you’ve learned this lesson, you will go out and try to self-publish, only to get hit with a cease and desist, because the supposed ‘liberal’ New York state allows the Big 5 to put “non-compete clauses” in their contracts. Which will usually be used to forbid you from ever writing in your genre again, since the contract lasts for the life of the author +70 years.

    If you think any of this is hyperbole or made up, it isn’t. Everything above has happened to hundreds, if not thousands of authors who’ve gone the trad pub route. The publishers lie, cheat, and steal from the very people who keep them in business, and if you complain, they kick you out and never let you in again.

    If your goal is to be in B&N (you know, before it goes out of business) then, by all means, be a slave. Which is exactly what you are if you sign a publishing contract. If your goal is to be a working author who brings joy to people’s lives with your imagination and sweat if your goal is to be an independent business person who makes more than enough money to provide for themselves and their family doing the thing they love? Then go indy.

    The only way to fail is to quit. Persistence is success. Isn’t that what the publishers say every time they reject a perfectly good book? Try again? Except when you try again you build your own audience, your own bank account, your own experience. No one can take it away from you.

    I’d rather be the master of my own raft than a rower on a slave ship.”

    • Are you for real? $2,500.00 advance? That’s it? Is that a solid number? Look, I’m just asking… b/c I’m floored. Why in the world would anyone take that money? I really don’t get it at all.

      • $2500 is high.
        Harlequin advances ran as low as $500 and even lower.

        And they took it because in the old days it was that or nothing. Many still think it is that or nothing.

        Paradigm lag at work.

      • Yep, and I can attest to it still being the case. And yes, they still include baskets, right of first refusal for upcoming works (*all* works) and non-competes. Such tools.

        And while the advance may be a little more, it’s often less than a book is already earning in a month…by a long shot.

        The thing that they think will make you take that contact, you ask?

        Wait for it…

        “Being published by a *real* publishing house.”

        Yep. Nope.

      • Depends a bit on genre. Romance novels almost always run lower on average; lit novels either have no advance or a very high advance.

        Back when Jim Baen was alive, he confirmed on Baen’s Bar that he gave a then-SF industry standard of a $5k advance for first-time and mid-list novelists. My understanding is that the advance size at Baen has remained roughly the same in the 15+ years since, and has actually gone DOWN at many publishers. $2500 seems about right.

    • And chained to the rowing bench, like Carlton Heston in Ben Hur.

      Too bad if the ship goes down (bankruptcy, hostile takeover, merger, etc.). You go down with it, as does any monies due you.

  8. Well, your passion is inverse to your knowledge of agents and publishing.

    The overarching idea that agents and publishers are thieves who are out to rob writers blind is just nonsense. An agent’s 15% commision of a $5.000 advance is a whopping $750, and commissioned sales is a tough business. Some agents are dishonest. There also dishonest and incompetent doctors, lawyers, accountants, businessmen and artists. At some point, you have to trust someone.

    Initially, a publisher retains about 90% of a book’s royalties. Then they lose 50-60% to the retailer. The 30-40%left over pays for editing, production and distribution of the book, as well as the sunk costs of running a publishing house. Most books never sell out their first print runs.

    The bottom line is that most writers will never earn a subsistence income solely from their writing, whether they are traditionally published or self-publish.

    • The bottom line is that most writers will never be published by trad-pub. End of the line.

      But they can still try to reach readers that might like their silly story.

      So they might as well slap a cover on it and see if readers on Amazon and the like will read it, and much better odds of making a buck or three than waiting for trad-pub/agent rejection slips.


    • “Well, your passion is inverse to your knowledge of agents and publishing.”

      Well, that’s true for one of us anyway. 😉

    • Most of that is factually true…
      …as far as it goes.
      But it doesn’t go far enough.
      There is more to the story than just costs which tends to be the only side of the story we hear from the traditionalist establishment.

      Financial decisions aren’t normally based on cost alone but on cost-benefit over the full lifecycle of the deal. And in a constantly changing environment like today’s publishing environment, making 100 year financial decisions on last decade conditions is too much risk to take on blind faith and trust.

      Sure, there are some honest agents and honest, non-predatory traditional publishers out there but they are increasingly a minority and by their unwillingness to separate themselves from the bad actors they tar themselves with the same brush.

      Corporate publishing in 2018 is a no win game and the only way to survive a no win game is not to play it.

      Which is what Indie publishing in its many forms is about.
      It’s simple self-defense.

      Until the fabled “industry-standard” contract moves away from life-of-copyright and all-global-rights terms, the proper response is to disintermediate the traditionalists and go with direct 90-day deals with retailers (at 30% of retail instead of tradpubs that give away, what was it?–50-60%?) until the disruption shakes down and a new balance is established for a publisher-author partnership.

      Shackling yourself to a dated, disrupted business model when you have a choice not to is not terribly safe.

      Or wise.

    • The bottom line is that most writers will never earn a subsistence income solely from their writing, whether they are traditionally published or self-publish.

      Good point. So why bother with an agent and publisher when there is a time-tested alternative?

      • If both alternatives offer the same (lack of) reward, why go with the one that ties your hands worldwide for a century?

        Publishing isn’t done evolving; future freedom of action has value in itself.

        • Controlling your rights is theoretically preferable to others controlling them but only if you can successfully exploit them. If you can’t, and most writers can’t, then it’s a moot point.

          • Hidden assumptions! 😉

            You’re assuming tomorrow will be like today.
            I’m not because today is not like yesterday.

            Which is why I see value in having the flexibility of being able to adapt to the future on the fly. If the “industry standard” predatory contracts go away in ten years and are replaced by, say, five year licenses, today’s Indies will have the option to accept those terms whereas today’s Dreamers won’t.

            And those better contracts may be rare but they exist.
            Flexibility may pay off in the future. And if it doesn’t you’re no worse off.

            • “Controlling your rights is theoretically preferable to others controlling them but only if you can successfully exploit them.”

              Trad-pub pricing new writers out of the market is not successfully exploiting them …

              He’s also assuming that the writer would get a contract of any type in the first place – most won’t – as there aren’t enough slots even if the contracts were worth it.

              Better and faster to go indie and if readers buy then trad-pub can come begging to you – and no agent fees required! 😉

          • Controlling your rights is theoretically preferable to others controlling them but only if you can successfully exploit them. If you can’t, and most writers can’t, then it’s a moot point.

            Without rights, one does not have the opportunity to exploit them. If the publisher has the rights, he has the opportunity. If the author has them, then the author has the opportunity.

            I would agree that after one fails at something, we can call it moot. Until then, better to have the opportunity than not.

    • Yes, commission paid jobs are hard. Having worked in the stock brokerage industry, I know that!

      But… Your broker gets a commission only when you buy or sell something through them. Once. They don’t get a piece of your dividends (if any). If you take your certificate (or bond, or whatever) to another broker, they don’t get a single cent when you do – or anything from future transactions through that broker.

      Yes, most writers never make a living from their work. But, if you go the traditional route, you have, at most, ONE shot at the “prize,” and that “prize” can be taken away at ANY time. Don’t earn out your first book? Forget about trying again, they won’t give you the time of day. Don’t earn out your twenty-first book? Forget about trying again, they won’t give you the time of day.

      An indie, on the other hand, can keep hammering away at the wall indefinitely, and pick up that hammer again after a glitch in their career. (Okay, that is a bit close to the definition of “insanity,” but nobody ever claimed we were particularly right in the head…)

      • “But… Your broker gets a commission only when you buy or sell something through them.”

        Which sadly is why agents tell writers to sign bad contracts – the agent doesn’t get any money if the writer says ‘no’ …

    • The overarching idea that agents and publishers are thieves who are out to rob writers blind is just nonsense.

      Funny, right here on this very blog there is an archive of unconscionable publishers’ contracts which express that very intention fully, legally, and in writing.

      Pull the other one; it’s got bells on.

    • Peter Winkler said, “Well, your passion is inverse to your knowledge of agents and publishing.”

      Nothing I said was wrong, Peter and all easily verifiable. Publishers are not on our side, nor should they be. No business is on your side. They’re in it for the money. You can find countless sources of authors being stripped of their copyrights. You can’t deny any of it, because it is all true.

  9. I always enjoy seeing my words here, mostly because I know there will be lively conversation and some serious disagreement! It’s all good.

    You’re right that we run in some different circles, although I work with plenty of writers for whom it’s totally a business, and I exist to bring more value to that business. I think maybe what I’m seeing that many of you don’t see is the large numbers of people who want to WRITE, and yes, they want to hold their book in their hands… and they haven’t yet arrived at the place where they truly, deeply understand that it’s a business. Some of them will never look at it that way, and it’s okay. A big part of my job is helping them evolve in their thinking so that they see it’s a business.

    There is a segment of the population for whom writing will always be a side hustle, something they do more for love than money, and having a traditionally published book is a long-held dream. Those are the writers to whom I was referring. I never meant to imply that I think ALL writers are like that.

    Many of my clients are successfully indie-publishing in addition to their traditional book deals. I’m a self-published author as well. So I “get” all the different sides.

    Thanks for posting, PG. Happy to have a pleasant conversation with you anytime, about something other than books… maybe we could talk about food. Or hiking. Or labrador retrievers. 🙂

    • I think maybe what I’m seeing that many of you don’t see is the large numbers of people who want to WRITE, and yes, they want to hold their book in their hands…

      I think that’s the agent’s market.

    • Quote: I think maybe what I’m seeing that many of you don’t see is the large numbers of people who want to WRITE, and yes, they want to hold their book in their hands… and they haven’t yet arrived at the place where they truly, deeply understand that it’s a business. End Quote

      No, I think most of us understand that very well, which is why we went Indy or hybrid. In my case, I had zero idea about the publishing business. I was a military scientist, so all I wanted was to tell the story and put it into the world. I wanted to touch it in a cover, yes, but that was secondary to the writing and sharing. That’s the feeling you’re describing.

      Agents weren’t necessary for that, nor was tradpub in any way. SP made it easy. TP made bad offers filled with baskets, first refusal rights, and non-competes. That’s insane.

      When hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of people wanted to read that first book, it shocked me. I learned the business then, but even now, for me it’s not about the money really, though I’m not about to give it away to intermediaries. It’s about the writing. The business is what I have to do to keep writing, the writing is what I want to do. And there’s control there we don’t get with TP.

      Now, if there were more agents actively working Audio stuff and truly working for their wage with a good contract, and not slipping movie and other rights into the mix with a smile and a wink, I’d be happy to shake their hand and do business.

    • I come on strong because I’m passionate about my dreams. Having spent my entire life being told “No” by the system, only to turn around and make it, virtually, on my first book. I’m 45 years old. If not for agents and publishers I could have been doing this since I was 25. Better late then never, I guess.

      And Rachelle, you do seem like a genuine and nice person, and I also think you’re a real class act (in a good way) for your post. I wish all agents were like you, publishers too, but I think you may be in the minority.

    • Ms. Gardner, you see the passion of the people on this site. Your words did not speak to us, because we’ve found another path. Some people are harsh toward what they see as misleading information, which I’m sure was not your intent.
      My first book came out 7 years ago. My books are in at least one (enlightened) Barnes and Noble, available on their website, and in independent and chain bookstores in at least four states (and growing). My name is in a bold, beautiful font across the eye-catching covers of numerous books. I feel great satisfaction in sales in print, as ebooks, as audiobooks. I can publish when and how I want, with complete control- and happiness (unlike so many other writers I talk to).
      Sure, publishing is a business, which is why I have control. The writing, however, is an art, which I take seriously. So I prefer not to have others meddle in the sale and distribution of that art. I could do more on the business side, but the writing comes first. All told, I’m enjoying what I do, and my growing number of fans seem to, as well.
      If someone’s dream is simply to hold a book with their name on it, they can do that in minutes. If they want to be in a Barnes and Noble, they can do that as well, without a Manhattan seal of approval. It’s not the only option anymore.

  10. I clicked through and read the OP prior to coming back and reading PV’s comments on it. And fortunately, I read Jeff’s comment above right after it… and I loved that.

    I also agree with Peter to a point… again… to a point…

    I am a middle manager in another industry, so I know a little about business and retail, etc. So when I hear the business of publishing bemoan how much it has to mark up to cover for retailers, marketing, and editing, I want to throw something at them. They are feeding a machine, not a competitive business.

    The big deal with indy writing is that it has put the power back into the hands of the writer. No, most of us will never eek out a viable living either through traditional means or not, however, far more people are earning a living through their own means rather than a publisher. Even better though, we own our work.

    With the rise in indy writing, certainly there will be problems. Good writers will struggle to find their footing without editors, marketing will be tricky, and there will always be those of us who are foolhardy enough to believe that we are better than we really are, crowding the marketplace with our terrible writing.

    Then again… I did just finish a book by a well-known, popular writer with GLARING plot holes, a disjointed protagonist, and a few pretty obvious editing errors. Somehow I still enjoyed it.

    But hey, what do I know?

  11. There’s a few areas where Agents and Big 5 have their place: non-fiction and juvenile fiction.

    If I’m not mistaken, most young readers (let’s say ages 4-13) still rely on the physical book. Yeah, you see iPads and Leap Pads in their hands, but I’m assuming that’s mostly games and movies to keep them quiet. And I get teens are “used to reading on their phones,” but sometimes I question exactly how much independence/willingness they have to purchase books for themselves. Even though I was an avid reader in middle school and high school, I still spent my money on video games and just picked through the stock of the library (excepting the rare Harry Potter’s of the world where I’d probably still be on the library wait list today).

    The last chart I saw from Author Earnings where they track traditionally published print and ebook sales by age range confirms this: a large proportion of children’s/middle grade fiction is still consumed via print.

    Moreover, it appears that adult and juvenile non-fiction is also purchased via print. Which makes sense, we’ve all got those coffee table books.

    So let’s not make too big of a blanket statement and at least give the agents some benefit of the doubt… they have their place. But if you write fiction for adults you have absolutely no business (literally) submitting to them.

      • At least one Indie children’s print book cracked the NYT list before they changed the rules to keep it out.

      • I’m saying that we often like to pile on and declare agents/trad pub completely useless, when in reality there are still markets where I don’t see that there’s any way of getting around.

        With non-fiction print books, there is a certain value in getting these types of books in a store. I have my own indie-produced fiction books available in Print-on-demand, and I balk at how expensive each copy is (usually I only take $1 of profit for each sold); I can’t imagine how expensive a coffee table style book would be to P.O.D. Do you purchase a lot of indie-produced non-fiction books in print?

        For children’s books, I’m saying that the market is still dominated by physical books in the form of gifts, libraries, classrooms, and orders from the Scholastic Book Club flyers. I’m suspicious of how many kids have the means to regularly scroll through Amazon and find indie-published titles they might like.

        I thought my last sentence said it all clearly though: anyone in ADULT FICTION should not need an agent.

        • I know both indie non-fic and children’s authors who do fine.

          I frequently buy indie non-fic books. Indies compete on price no problem.

          • Examples on the Children’s side? Not trying to refute, I just know I’m going to have to make that decision myself in the near future, and I have yet to find a good comparable.

            • You can google indie children’s authors and find as many as you want. The 2nd best selling children’s book on Amazon right now isn’t trad pubbed. Looks like Amazon picked him up.

              Note the decision isn’t trad or indie, unless you are looking at a contract right in front of you. The decision is how long do you hold out for a unicorn trad deal? That’s different for each person.

    • I can attest to this. My middle school daughter insists on print because she is expected to read at school and is not allowed to take electronics to school. She tells me her classmates are pretty much the same way. My younger son, like most elementary school students, is a big consumer of scholastic materials. They are cheaply made and cheaply offered and they hit a sweet spot.

    • @Dexter

      “There’s a few areas where Agents and Big 5 have their place: non-fiction and juvenile fiction.”

      I write non-fiction exclusively. And there is absolutely no interest or any reasons on my part to go Trad Pub.

  12. Publishing professionals – those who run publishing companies, those who edit and acquire books, those who represent authors – are on your side.

    Demonstrably not true. And there’s a fundamental conflict of interest that makes this impossible.

  13. Many writers ache with the desire to hold a book in their hands that has their name beautifully printed across the cover.

    “Hello? Mr. OBrien? This is Lorraine at Authors Solutions. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I could connect with you. It’s about your book. I couldn’t put it down. Really. We haven’t seen anything like that in years. I mean it was riveting, just riveting. Really riveting. I mean, like, you know, what can I say? We haven’t seen such a fresh and vibrant voice in, well, in like, years. Really. Years. Management has assigned our Tiger team to it. Really. I know we can make something really happen here.”

    • I don’t write books but it sounds like there could be a really juicy best seller murder mystery in there.

      (If anyone is interested in writing the book let me know and I’ll give you the plot details. We can split the profits. [grin]).

  14. A lot of people here will not like this, but I am done with self-publishing. That said, I don’t think my decision is for everyone, but it is my decision for me. I’m not trying to make a living at authorship. I made enough in my previous career that we can probably survive on what we have if we watch our pennies and live modestly. Since we’ve always tried to live modestly, that’s no hardship.

    What is a hardship for me is messing around with book product design, marketing campaigns, negotiating with service providers like editors and book designers. I’ve done enough of that with software. I don’t like it, but I acknowledge its necessity.

    I get my pleasure from writing itself and seeing a product I like at the end of the cycle. My goal now, aside from writing books I like, is finding an agent who is worth their slice of the deal, who will find publishers who will produce my books in a form I like. I know a little about business and I think I can read a contract well enough to know if I being fleeced. And if I fall to hubris and let myself be robbed, so what? I intend to have fun throwing my precious words away.

    I know a few traditionally published authors who are quite happy with the way it has worked out for them. Yes, I also know some horror stories, but I’ve seen horror stories in a lot of businesses. Getting the shaft is one of those things that happens all the time in life. Best try to avoid it. But realize that it can and will happen to you a time or two.

    It’s disheartening to have an agent half your age and a third as discerning as yourself tell you to climb a rope, but it is also disheartening to realize that you have self-published a piece of crap that should have gone through a dozen rewrites before another person saw it.

    Would I tell a young person to forget about self-publishing? No. But I would tell them to keep their eyes open. KDP is business built to make money for Amazon that you might be able to use to your benefit, not a magic money-making machine that benevolent Bezos built for you. Traditional publishers make money from publishing. You might be able to use their experience and skill for your purposes.

    It’s a big mean self-serving world out there. No one, and I mean no one, cares about you as much as you care about yourself. You can find partners who share your interests, but you must be prepared to give in order to take.

    Pretty self-centered, huh?

    • “Pretty self-centered, huh?”

      Not really, YMMV as they say.

      But if you do indeed care nothing for the money, then post your work on your website for your followers to find. If you’re like me and put a little note saying corrections/suggestions are welcome, you’ll most likely find a couple people that make pretty good sub-editors helping point out errors (and plot-holes before they get too deep.) In my case there was even some fairly nicely drawn artwork donated for some of the scenes.

      Who knows? Your story(s) might build up enough of a following to have them beg you to turn it into a little ebook – and then a big publisher comes by with hat in hand (I hear that happen for a poor guy left on Mars. 😉 )

      You will of course do as you please – as we all do – but if you do get an agent/publisher calling don’t sell yourself cheaply – and don’t sell yourself out:

      (Ann ChristyOctober 24, 2018 at 5:59 pm
      “Yep, and I can attest to it still being the case. And yes, they still include baskets, right of first refusal for upcoming works (*all* works) and non-competes. Such tools.”)

        • Got revenue now as it happens. Free on a couple sites where my readers can see them and on Amazon for those that wish to donate to keep this nutcase banging on the keyboard (not true, the nutcase would still bang on the keyboard and come up with silly art covers made with DAZ 3D! 😉 )

          May Your Mileage Vary

      • Money has a place in all my thoughts about writing, but the role it plays for me may not be the same as it is for others. To clarify, I do care about money, but I am not as driven by the need to keep the wolf from the door as I was when I was younger. I’d like to make money from my writing, but I can afford to take time to manage my projects carefully. I’m lucky to have time for careful work, if I don’t succumb to laziness and slack off.

        I never liked being a contract consultant and I liked even less hiring contract consultants. Why? Because consultants have only an indirect stake in the product. Their reputation may suffer if they work on a stinker, but they still get paid and there is always the next gig. Someone who has bought in to the enterprise lives with the product. They have to ride it home, as we used to say out in the hay fields after stacking a load of bales that had to hold together until it arrived at the hay mow.

        I have always liked everyone involved in my projects to have a direct stake in the outcome. I am not above begging for free help– I have a small group of beta readers who are regularly the victims of my importuning– but for sustained editing and experienced advice on shaping the work, I want a someone who will lose substantially if the product is not up to the mark. A contract editor does not meet those requirements for me. Ditto for cover artists, book designers, marketers, and publicists.

        These sentiments incline me toward a more traditional path– I am hoping to find an experienced agent who I trust to be worth their slice of the proceeds from the project, who will use their experience to find a publisher who will perform their piece of the project. Just what I would look for in a project in any industry.

        Will this be easy? Not likely. A lot of people aspire to write books. Experienced and capable agents and publishers are few. Finding the right agent and convincing them to sign on will be difficult. But no one ever truthfully said business was easy.

        Will this be as remunerative as self-publishing? Probably not. Generally, I observe that contract labor is cheap, skin is expensive.

        Will I retain control? I intend to relinquish some control– that’s the nature of the beast. When you partner rather than hire, it’s a partnership and the partner gets some control. It’s a trade-off that you have to consider carefully but you cannot get the benefits of becoming a partner without giving up some ownership.

        • Hello? Mr. Demo? This is Lorraine at Authors Solutions. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I could connect with you…

          • Demo, I have to break it to you, but the Gig5 is no more interested in your product than the CEO of MacDonald’s is interested in the quality of an individual Cheeseburger served at a South Central Mickie’s. You’re a number on an accountants spread sheet, not even a name. The people who do they cover, editing, and formatting? They’re all contractors. Most of whom are available for hire to Indies.

        • I’m more than a little puzzled by your assertion that you can’t get a good team together without a BPH. I have a fantastic editor, proofreader, cover artist, and cover designer. They cost a fair amount, but you get what you pay for–a $50 cover simply won’t work for me.

          Yes, it took effort, and it took time to assemble this great team. For some reason, I could not keep a cover designer until book four of my five-book series. Also, yes, I could get better at Photoshop and do it myself but I don’t want to. So I hire a person to take the excellent cover art and turn it into a cover for me.

          The people I hire don’t have an investment in my book except for the work they’ve done (and the recommendations and praise I heap on them), but they’re professionals and do a great job. Again, I’m very puzzled as to why you think you can’t find people like them to work on your books. You don’t need an agent or a publishing house. Take a look at my print copies. They are indistinguishable from a BPH book.

          • “Take a look at my print copies. They are indistinguishable from a BPH book.”

            I disagree. If your ‘Darkness Rising’ cover is your average cover then you’re selling yourself short by saying they compare to most of the junk trad-pub pushes out. 😉

            • All I have to say is: https://www.amazon.com/Elfhome-Wen-Spencer-ebook/dp/B00APADQ0Q/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1540501019&sr=8-6&keywords=by+wen+spencer

              The FMC depicted on the cover is not the same FMC depicted in the book. She doesn’t dress like that. She mostly wears jeans and button down shirts. If she needs to dress up, she’s classy, not slutty.

              Oh, and they put the wrong type of dragon on the cover too. That’s a European dragon. The dragon depicted in the text is a wingless Asian dragon.

              So if that’s the type of cover they put on an UF book including an Asian dragon and a sensible, down-to-earth nonslutty FMC, I don’t want what TradPub companies can offer. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Wen Spencer was one of their more popular midlist authors at the time they published the book with that atrocious cover, and they dismissed her protests over it. She was devastated, and they Did Not Care.

              Also, I think the quality of the art on this book’s cover is actually worse than that on Meryl’s book, just taken on its own merit–or lack thereof–exclusive of the glaring mistakes in the depictions.

              • “It’s Julie Dillon interpreting the scenes I give her.”

                And that’s something only the .1 percenters get from trad-pub. For all others it’s ‘What sci-fi cover haven’t we reused this week?’

          • All this is fine and more power to you. I’ve assembled teams for packaging and marketing software and I am in awe that you have done it successfully for your books. I know how hard it is and I congratulate you.

            I imagine I could get a good team together because I was able to do so for software. But I would rather put my limited energies into writing and delegate the team building to a partner. Notice that I say “partner.” I will not work with a publisher or agent who will not step up as a partner. I’m not a kid anymore, sometimes I wish I was, and long ago I quit taking the first offer just because it was made.

            I think where I differ with a lot of authors who take the trad-pub route is I refuse to accept a bad deal. I trust myself to spot a bad deal when it is offered because I have been burned a few times in the past in other businesses.

        • “I have always liked everyone involved in my projects to have a direct stake in the outcome. I am not above begging for free help– I have a small group of beta readers who are regularly the victims of my importuning– but for sustained editing and experienced advice on shaping the work, I want a someone who will lose substantially if the product is not up to the mark. A contract editor does not meet those requirements for me. Ditto for cover artists, book designers, marketers, and publicists.”

          Then why trad-pub? Unless you’re already a household name to them you are just one more hopeful, the editor will be the next one free, the cover will be whatever they feel like slapping on, no advertising and to add insult to injury they will price your ebooks out of the market.

          If by some chance your book still sells the contract you signed gives they first rights to your next book and most likely the characters of your first book so you can’t continue a series elsewhere.

          Good luck and watch yourself out there (and if offered coolaid don’t drink it!)

        • I have always liked everyone involved in my projects to have a direct stake in the outcome.

          Trad publishers don’t really have much stake in any new/midlist author’s book they publish. If they did, they wouldn’t dump authors for poor sales.

          • I have to disagree. Dumping an author for poor sales is what as known as “cutting your losses on a bad bet.” There is a basic business rule: Don’t partner with a loser. There is a corollary: suck a sucker dry. That’s what vanity presses do.

            Keep in mind that avoiding losing partners works both ways. If a publisher can’t sell your books, move away as fast as you can. Insist on a contract that does not hinder you from doing so. I think that means avoiding situations where an author commits to more than one book at a time unless a multi-book contract offers something of sufficient value to balance the danger of a failing publisher.

            • If a publisher can’t sell your books, move away as fast as you can.

              Sure, but the book won’t move with you because there won’t be a book to move. Insisting on such a contract means there will be no such contract. Publishers don’t care what we insist on.

              • There are some time limited contracts to be had…
                …if you have enough of a name or established fanbase.
                At which point…

              • I don’t have a problem with abandoning a book to an under performing publisher. I put my resources down on a project with a partner. If it fails, it fails. I’ve written a dozen books that failed before I let them out of the barn. I expect some to fail after they leave the barn.

                When a partner fails to sell a book, it’s time for a new project with a new partner. I don’t consider my books so precious that each must succeed. A business failure is a business failure. I’ll shed my tears and move on.

                Of course, all this is hypothetical. I’m projecting my experiences in other businesses to publishing. My plan for the future reflects my own experience, expectations, and acquaintance with my limitations. My plan is my guess at the best plan for myself. What else can anyone do?

                • I should add that I don’t expect to be signing up soon with Penguin Random House. I’ve had good luck with the publisher of my non-fiction and I know authors who have decent careers with traditional publishers. What I see about independent fiction publishing is that it requires skills that I know I should delegate to others. I also know that I prefer partners with skin in the game to contract consultants.

                  Others with talents I do not possess will do fine in independent publishing. I manage a limited set of talent and capability. I don’t think I can succeed without finding partners.

                • There’s also the matter of time allocation.

                  One size does not fit all.
                  Different strokes and all that.

                  They key thing is to do the homework and temper expectations. Keeping options open helps, too.

                  Tradpub is a minefield but if you’re careful you can survive the experience. Enjoy it? TBD.

  15. Is there any other industry segment where people keep telling us it’s really about making money? Anyone ever think widget-makers are in it for the love of the machine oil scent on their clothes in the morning?

    Or how about a heartfelt testimony that sneaker guys care more about money than your bunions?

  16. Rachelle Gardner was the first agent I ever pitched to. She passed on the book, but that had nothing to do with my decision to self-publish. I just wanted to keep my rights and be in control of the process. I only ever pitched to three agents at that one conference (my first) and got two requests for fulls that went nowhere. I’d decided to self-publish before I sent off the MS, so I never waited breathlessly to hear from those agents!

    That title’s now my permafree and must have earned me $100K in sell-through by now. I know self-publishing isn’t for everyone but that decision to self-publish was the best decision I ever made. I love what I do, I love being in control, I love the direct relationship with readers. I stopped following agent blogs years ago. I just don’t see the point of the trad industry for me, although I’m perfectly OK with other writers wanting to be part of it. I’m glad to hear Rachelle’s still around and wish her all the best.

  17. Kris Rusch explains very clearly in this week’s post on her blog that the Big 5 have switched their business model away from publishing. They’re far more interested in hoarding IP than they are in reaching readers with their books.

    The major traditional publishers, the ones we call the Big Five or Big Four or Big whatevers, are part of international conglomerates. And those conglomerates have become rapacious—not for works they can publish effectively—but for intellectual property.
    . . .
    So for the measly price of $5,000, that company might gain a property worth (on paper at least) as little as $50,000 and as much as $5 million. Then multiply that by all of the books contracted for in 2018 by that company, and you suddenly understand what these publishers are doing.

    They’re not publishing anything anymore. They acquiring assets, and bulking up their net worth.
    . . .
    Traditional publishing in the 21st century shouldn’t even have the word “publishing” attached to its name.


    • It’s as I’ve said before, it’s all about control and they have no control over the indie, thus pieces like this one …

    • Hoarding IP is the trend in many industries now, not just publishing. In software, it seems that building your patent portfolio is more important than product portfolio these days. Products, plant, and equipment seems to be a ho-hum for the current crop of managers. I don’t understand why. The tariff situation? I don’t know. The tax cut was supposed to herald a gusher of investment, but it seems to be mostly in patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Strange and changing times.

      • Patents are a (non-taxable) form of currency.
        Hoarding copyrights and patents is a way of banking currency that won’t be taxed.

        Want less of something? Tax it.
        Want more of something? Don’t tax it.

        Now, factor in that for the last decade the world has been awash in cheap currency because of central banks fighting off the deflation of the “great recession” and that while the federal government has (finally) reduced corporate taxes to something comparable to international levels, state and local taxes have general gone up in the states where most of those IP hoarders reside. Some have even implemented supplementary taxes on headcount, discouraging further hiring. No much sense investing in facilities or even robots if any gains get taxed away. (Remember, there is talk of implementing “income tax” on robots. The proper term, of course, would be “Productivity Tax”.)

        Anytime you see weird/dysfunctional behavior by otherwise well-run companies, look to the IdiotPoliticians™ for the root cause.

        • Whenever I am in London, I make it a point to sit in Karl Marx’s favorite seat in the British Museum reading room for an hour or so. I am of the capitalist persuasion, but I have always found Marx’s emphasis on the means of production to be a trenchant tool for analysis.

          I see a fundamental change in the means of production in progress. Digital changes so many things. The network detaches digital production from a location. The low cost of digital reproduction devalues reproduction infrastructure like printing presses and manufacturing plants. I read a lot of automation newsletters and I am astounded at how much and how fast digital modeling, digital guided machining, and 3d printing technology have changed manufacturing. AI and robotics has extracted the human muscle and will from many forms of physical reproduction.

          These shifts seem as significant as the transition from peasant agriculture to manufacturing. I wonder what is happening. It may be all politics, but I doubt it.

          • No, it’s not *all* politics.

            IP is as much a product as a ton of steel.
            But the natural ratio of investment in the physical vs the intellectual, and *where* the physical investment occurs is distorted by misguided political activity.

            And you are right to keep an eye on additive manufacturing because that is where the future of manufacturing lies. In techniques that involve essentially zero physical labor, zero physical force.

            For now, sintering in its many forms is the center of activity but where I see a lot of manufacturing going further down the road is plasma deposition. Chemical assembly will also have a big role but deposition almost certainly will have the biggest impact on materials science.

            Very energy intensive but it will let us build structures one atomic layer at a time. That will lead to supermolecules and interwoven lattices, creating materials that not only don’t exist in nature but that can’t exist otherwise.

            Robots in manufacturing is just a transitory phase.

            Where robots are going next is what is going to make the biggest impact since the 60’s: a second, labor-less, green revolution. We’re already seeing urban indoor farms, food factories. Expect more.

            And expect more fruit-picking and crop collection robots.

            Where Marx got it all wrong is by focusing on physical work as the core of economies when it is mental work that is key in this century.

            The best economies will be those that move the fastest from working hard to working smart.

              • Marx got a lot right for the 19th century. His proletarian state was a failure, at least as embodied by Lenin and Stalin, but he nailed the essential transition from uncoordinated agriculture to a factory economy. What would he have said if he witnessed the 21st century?

                I expect an entire new definition of what it means to a human in society. Value will be redefined and human worth will be different, I wish I could say what the changes will look like.

                • There’s fun in guessing.
                  A lot of SF is about analyzing the world and extrapolating existing trends “If this goes on…”, or guessing what disruption might come next, the classic “What if…”.

                  Marx problem wasn’t the era, but him.
                  He had a specific agenda so he ignored existing data and trends that had been around for a century. There was already a strong IP economy in place throughout the nineteenth century. Innovation patents and copyrights were well established elements of the economy–that is why the US constitution addressed both from day one–and driving industrial growth. So was mechanization replacing labor; the luddites.

                  If Marx had looked at the bigger picture he would’ve seen how much of economic growth was driven, not by the exploitation of laborers, but by innovative products and techniques. He would have seen *how* the American colonies had grown into one of the largest economies in the world in a couple of generations. In fact, the US became the world’s largest economy during his lifetime.

                  The trends were there. He just didn’t take a broad enough picture. A common failure, mind you. But an avoidable one. He only looked at one sector of one country and promptly projected it at the entire world without one shred of proof.

                  We still see that today, most recently in the calls for taxing robots that displace labor, an assumption that what was necessary and dominant in the past will remain necessary and dominant unto eternity.

                  Extrapolation requires detachment and care.
                  Both for SF and for economics.

                  Or choosing a path for publication, to return to the core topic.

                  The BPHs focusing on IP hoarding is a logical and good move… for *them*. Less so for unwary, uninformed authors who willingly join the lumpen proletariat *today* expecting yesterday’s rewards. If nothing else, they are selling themselves cheap.

    • They’re not publishing anything anymore. They acquiring assets, and bulking up their net worth.

      Net worth? I don’t believe it. I want to see the ledger entries.

  18. The more I read about how the book publishing business works, the less surprised I am that writers tend to tilt left. If this was your main exposure to the “free market,” you’d be inclined to think it was pretty lousy yourself.

        • Given the amount of coordination between them they operate more like a monopsony. And, if all the under the table backdoor deals are factored in, a RICO investigation wouldn’t be out of order. That’s one reason they keep throwing money at politicians, so they won’t dream of upsetting their racket.

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