Sunday, June 30, 2013

Writing Well Versus Reality In Traditional Publishing

I have several friends - some who've been picked up by an agent and/or a publisher and some who are still trying to become so - who continue to tell me to stop attempting to go indie.  I've been told by more than a few that I have the talent to draw interest, and more have told me that there's no path to success that includes indie publishing(someone tell Hugh Howey and the $125,000 he picks up per month).  The traditional publishers, after all, hold the keys to the distribution channels, and they have the expertise to let us know what will and what won't sell.
(Hard to make it without help from the big guns...or so I hear)
However, I haven't bought into this for over a year now, and this recent post from Kathryn Kristine Rusch caught my eye.  It encapsulated everything that I think is wrong with the traditional publishing world and why I can't recommend it to anyone, regardless of talent level.

The first point that so many writers forget is that writing is a business.  Yes, we all want to weave magical tales and get audiences enraptured by what we write, but in the end, it's still a business.  We have to sell what we write if we want to do foolish things like eat and sleep under an actual roof.  Most of us envision that once we've sold our work, we'll be able to live the good life of producing our next masterpiece, confident that we've left the rest of the world behind.  Unfortunately, when we prostitute ourselves out to a traditional publishing house, we become little more than just another employee - we have a bottom line to contribute to, and our success if no longer in our control.

Control - that's what the indie movement is all about.  Rusch's experience with her Smokey Dalton novels were an unmitigated disaster.  From everything to cover design, over which she had no say, to the marketing and being told where she could and couldn't market, she had no control over her work.  Her publisher made decisions based on suppositions, many of them flat out wrong, and when her books didn't sell as well from the beginning as that publisher wanted, they stopped promoting and printing the work.  This didn't just affect that book, but future books within the series as well.  And due to the copyright belonging to someone else, she had to fight like hell to get the rights back.  Had she not done that, her ideas would've just died.

In other words, she could've written the greatest book ever, but if the traditional publisher didn't push it or accept it, no one would ever know.  This is what writers give up in traditional publishing.  Yes, there are writers who've had their meal ticket stamped and ride the gravy train to stardom, but those are mostly now established writers who've proven themselves in a different age.  New writers that have no track record get no real push, and they have even less control over their work.  Covers are decided by boards with little input from the person who wrote it, and eggheads in marketing decide how to push a book(if at all), and usually do it in ways that the author knows to be against the best interest of the target demographic(which usually isn't understood by the publisher).  If sales were robust with what they did push, they might have a valid argument, but book sales from traditional publishers have been in the toilet for years, mostly because I don't think they have any more of an idea about what the public likes to read than anyone else(remember how many times both Harry Potter and Twilight got rejected).
(Are there more sales in there?)
I implore you to read Rusch's post, especially those of you who are quick to dismiss indie.  If you're comfortable yielding that level of control to someone else, then please keep pursuing it.  However, I can't give that kind of ownership to anyone but myself.  Yes, I might fail, but I'll succeed or fail on my own terms, based on the decisions I make, rather than giving that to another person.  If more writers remembered that rather than giving such control to a traditional publisher so they can focus on their "ahhhrrrtt," I think we'd have a better variety rather than the same stale stories we're seeing on shelves today.

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