Why playing safe in publishing is riskier than ever

I tweeted this piece yesterday by agent Jenny Bent : ‘Why reader taste differs from publisher taste’. I urge you to read the whole article, but briefly, she’s talking about what’s wrong with the way the industry tries to second guess what readers should be offered – whether literature or popular fiction. A friend on Twitter came back to me and said ‘come come, surely it can’t be that bad?’

Jenny’s in the US, and I’m on the other side of the Atlantic. But here, it is indeed that bad.

I know a few agents, and they’re tearing their hair out. An agent recently told me ‘editors in big publishers are basically readers for marketing departments’. Another said in the past year she’d got more than 10 excellent books to editorial board, with all the editors staunchly behind them, but marketing vetoed them. An editor I know – very senior in terms of job title and the publisher she works for – laments that she is no longer allowed to accept the rich fiction she loves to read and has to publish shallow sure-fire supermarket titles.

Jenny says books are that too quirky or defy comparison don’t get a chance. Again, that’s the same here.

The interesting and popular authors I like wouldn’t, I’m told, get published if they were starting today. Especially not with their most ambitious work. David Mitchell would be told to take Cloud Atlas away and keep it on his hard drive. Kingsley Amis wouldn’t be allowed to hop between genres. Michael Morpurgo wouldn’t be allowed to write a non-genre novel about horses. Holes by Louis Sachar? Forget it. And David Almond’s Skellig. Readers seem to like them, though. They still buy them.

It’s the big monolithic publishers I’m talking about here. They were a good model five years ago but they’re breaking down because they can’t take the interesting books. But the smaller boutique publishers are a different matter. They can – and are being – much more adventurous. The economist Tim Harford has in fact written an entire book on this subject (Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure), about how you cannot prevail in today’s business environment without a willingness to experiment and take risks.

One of the things that’s so nice about Jenny Bent’s piece is that she pays tribute to the self-published writers who are getting out and finding their readers. That’s something we’re not hearing enough of. Some self-published authors I know who’ve been to conferences recently felt like they were about to be chased away with pitchforks.

Reviewers, who you’d think were less restricted, haven’t yet caught up with the fact that quality, competent, worthwhile authors are self-publishing. The theory goes that this is because journalism is funded by advertising and indies don’t buy expensive adverts. Whatever the reason, this industry needs to find a way to give good self-published writers a fair chance at creating a decent and widespread reputation.

But there’s no point in negativity, and ending on a whinge. The other thing I’d like to say is that the agents, editors, and publisher sales forces I’ve met are all book lovers too. It’s just their end of the business that’s broken. Thankfully, as Jenny points out, we’re all now building a new one.

(Thanks for the picture, Frankh)

Rant over. Do continue in the comments if you feel so inclined…

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  1. #1 by Stacy Green on January 18, 2012 - 10:12 pm

    Excellent post, Roz. I have some things cooking in the submission pot, and your post help me put a lot of things in perspective. While my book is pretty mainstream, I’m still not sure a legacy publisher would want to take the chance on the newbie. And if they do, they’re simply not equipped to give me the time and attention I’d like as a new author. That’s why a smaller press may be a better fit for the start of my career.

    Thanks!

    • #2 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 12:23 am

      Thanks, Stacy! Small might well be best for the kind of book you have in mind – and you should talk it over with agents to see what they say. But a lot is going to change this year, that’s for sure.

  2. #3 by Nancy J. Cohen on January 18, 2012 - 10:14 pm

    Thank goodness for the small press/indie publishers who are giving us midlisters a chance. More of these types of markets are proliferating, and they’re willing to accept cross genre books or others than would be denied a peek by the Big Six. Discoverability, however, is something we have to deal with at this level.

    • #4 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 12:24 am

      Agreed, Nancy – especially your point about discoverability. At least those of us who are used to getting out there on social media will be practised at it.

  3. #5 by Laura Pauling on January 18, 2012 - 10:24 pm

    Excellent response. I can’t believe how much has changed in five years. And I can’t believe how many terrific books I’ve read that are self published and I truly don’t understand why they weren’t accepted.

    I absolutely love concept of self publishing. Yes, it’s scary. But it’s awesome. I can’t wait to see how things change and hopefully get better in the future. I can’t’ wait to see what creative press plows forward with a new model that works!

  4. #7 by needlesandpens on January 18, 2012 - 10:43 pm

    I am a self-publishing author, and have released six books through Amazon. I’ve since added Kindle versions to three of my titles. Self-publishing is a little scary, and even print-on-demand-from-home-sales requires some investment of capital and a more aggressive marketing personality that many authors haven’t yet developed (myself included.)

    I’m reading on social media that many authors are offering their hard work to Kindle for a ninety-nine cent price (bringing the author only 35% of that in return … truly, nickels and dimes for our work. The expectation is that more people will buy on impulse, if not in interest. That is a sad reality.

    I’ve reduced two of my books to ninety-nine cents, but my newest is listed in the 70% royalty range, at least for now. Kindle’s facilitation of offering a free sample of a book’s beginnings makes up for the reader’s lost ability to browse before purchasing.

    I am adapting to this because I am a newly-publishing author. The marketing must overwhelm authors who had dreamed of a big publishing house contract.

    Terry

  5. #9 by Anne Lyle (@AnneLyle) on January 18, 2012 - 10:49 pm

    All good points. I’m one of those with a book coming out soon from a “boutique” publisher, though the boys at Angry Robot Books would probably cringe at this term :)

    Still, they’re winning awards left, right and centre and putting out books that the SFF community are talking about in glowing terms, and I’m over the moon to be part of it. It seems to me to be a happy medium between the behemoths of megacorp publishing and the scary wilds of doing it yourself.

  6. #11 by Daniel R. Marvello on January 18, 2012 - 10:55 pm

    Nice. Words that needed saying…or writing…whatever.

    I agree that things *are* that bad. And they are going to get worse. There’s no nefarious plot, and there’s no bad guy. It’s just a rapidly changing business environment that is akin to a revolution: power and money is going to migrate from the current establishment to a new establishment. That process is always painful and often brings out the worst in the contenders.

    I choose to self publish because it is the best way to protect my interests in a marketplace that is in chaos. When the New Order settles in (something I don’t expect to see for quite some time), I’ll re-evaluate the best path for publishing my work. When/if that happens, I’ll already have control of my rights. I won’t have to wrest them from a dead or dying organization that has far more important things to worry about than accommodating my request.

    Literary agencies, reviewers, and bookstores are like remoras that still cling to the traditional publishing shark. They naturally look down on anything that harms their source of sustenance. But if they don’t start looking for a new host soon, they’ll eventually be found floating belly-up alongside their myopic symbiont.

    In the meantime, my books will reach readers. Maybe not a lot of them, but probably at least as many as I would get out of my 6-8 weeks on the bookshelf, assuming I got that far. And it will happen now, not two years (or more) from now.

    • #12 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 12:27 am

      Hello, DAniel! Thank you. Those are some very astute points about rights and what might happen in the chaos of the marketplace. And in fact ‘there are no bad guys’ was one of the lines I was going to put in this post and eventually cut.

  7. #13 by courseofmirrors on January 18, 2012 - 11:45 pm

    I’m smiling. So good to come across a positive and encouraging outlook … shallow sure-fire supermarket titles … fitting term – sounds like the death-toll to the imagination. I sincerely hope the fast food genre doesn’t become an acquired taste.

  8. #15 by Jenny Milchman on January 18, 2012 - 11:55 pm

    I agree, Roz, with you and Jenny about the gems that glitter from the rough amongst self-published books. There are definitely some, and more every day.

    Daniel, you raised a lot of sharp points, especially about the big splash model/short shelf life that comes with a major, and also the delay between acquisition and release (not to mention all the time to reach that acquisition). And Stacy’s note about small presses is so true–the close, personal attention is definitely an asset there.

    I’m not ready to write off the Big 6 however. As a not-yet-released debut novelist, I can say that at least in this one case, the marketing department didn’t trump all–it really seems to be about dynamic, passionate book lovers. It’s not the norm maybe–and it took me 11 years to get this opportunity. For many, spending that much time simply may not make sense, especially with self-pubbing as a viable way to build an audience first.

    To my mind the only thing I feel certain of now is that there are more ways than ever to build a career as an author. And that’s the best thing of all.

    • #16 by Daniel R. Marvello on January 19, 2012 - 12:12 am

      I completely agree, Jenny. Authors have more options than ever, and that is a wonderful thing. Ironically, I’m probably the one “playing it safe” by keeping my rights close to home.

      I think there is still a lot of room for the joy and thrill associated with getting your book accepted and published by one of the Big 6. For many authors, that thrill is well worth any wait.

      I wish you the best of luck and an excellent publishing experience.

    • #17 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 12:32 am

      Thanks, Jenny. Gosh you’re right about the time this process takes – it’s like a geological calendar. But congratulations on finally getting there and the very best of luck. And as you say, the horizons are broadening for authors now – and that’s exciting.

  9. #18 by mrdisvan on January 18, 2012 - 11:59 pm

    It has become almost a cliché to liken the big publishers to dinosaurs and the more nimble and more adventurous small publishers to mammals. But that’s a fairly common pattern in evolution and if the coming of ebooks isn’t a bloody great meteorite then I don’t know what is. In other words, the cliché may very well turn out to be true.

  10. #20 by Jeff Davis on January 19, 2012 - 12:07 am

    I live in Maine, USA, which is not exactly seething with literary agents, nor small publishing company’s. The ones we do have are extremely narrow in their focus. Downeast Books only publishes nonfiction books promoting the area. Many publishers limit their authors by age, sex, sexual orientation or nationality. A fifty plus year old southern man writing a novel about a turn of the century nurse on the coast of Maine had better either self-publish or write under an alias.

    • #21 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 12:35 am

      Jeff, you needn’t confine yourself to the locals. A friend of mine in Japan has a literary agent in Dublin. And there are many micro publishers who deal only on line – Port Yonder Press and Dystenium are two I can think of off the top of my head.

      • #22 by Jeff Davis on January 19, 2012 - 12:41 am

        I’ll look into them. I have a dogearred Jeff Herman’s Guide to Agents and publishers. But its been collecting dust since I self published.

  11. #23 by Victoria on January 19, 2012 - 1:09 am

    Yes, it’s the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The thing is, the self-publishing phenomenon is changing everything so fast it makes your head spin around on your neck. Three years ago we were still hearing, “Don’t self-publish or a traditional publisher will never take you serious.” Two & a half years ago I was told by an executive editor for a major imprint, “Publishers are starting to go to the IBPA awards to find great books.” Now best selling authors are self-publishing works their traditional publishers aren’t interested in or–beyond that–any ole thing they like.

    It’s unstoppable, the power of grassroots community on the Internet, beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my half-century so far on this planet. And I feel utterly blessed to be writing at this time in history so I can be a part of it.

    • #24 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 8:54 am

      Exciting times, eh Victoria? I just noticed that whenever I post about self-publishing, I get far more new subscribers than when I post about writing craft. Hmmm

      • #25 by Daniel R. Marvello on January 19, 2012 - 2:01 pm

        I suspect that it’s all about the emotion. Self-publishing has become a hot topic, and authors are both excited and frightened. They hear about the wild success of a few lucky individuals (luck still plays a role, no matter how hard you work), and then the reality turns out to be confusing, conflicting, and at times, heartbreaking. Everyone wants answers, and good ones are hard to come by. Your clear writing style and no-nonsense approach to the issues attracts readers. It’s partly why I’m here! ;-)

      • #26 by Victoria on January 19, 2012 - 7:52 pm

        Oh, yes, self-publishing is such an enormously hot topic. I think it’s largely because aspiring writers are encouraged by the industry to think in terms of ‘being published’ as opposed to ‘being writers.’ At the same time, the bottleneck to traditional publishers has been an issue for years, now suddenly exploding with all that pent-up ambition and frustration and hope right this moment—this year, this week—directly under our feet.

        “Let it be me!” cries the aspiring writer, throwing their coin in that fountain. “Let it be me!”

        • #27 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 8:35 pm

          I know how frustrating it is. But I keep telling people to try querying first. They usually get some idea from this of how a book shapes up next to the published authors. And if it doesn’t, they’re not ready to self-pub – even for 99c!

          • #28 by Victoria on January 20, 2012 - 5:15 pm

            You’re right on the mark with this, Roz. As usual! :)

  12. #29 by never2late2write on January 19, 2012 - 2:55 am

    Great post Roz.

    I have to admit that my head is spinning. I’ve heard both sides of the publishing debate.

    I imagine the best way to approach the publishing aspect would be to deal with that after writing and editing my novel. Any newbie advice will be deeply appreciated.

    Janet

    • #30 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 8:59 am

      Janet, I always urge people in your position to seek representation first. Querying is the way to test if your work is up to standard. You might be exactly what an agent is looking for and your life as a writer will be a lot easier than if you go it alone. If you have near misses, they will tell you what you need to work on – and that advice is free. If you never hear or get form rejections, you’ve probably got a way to go and should probably work on your craft. An agent may end up not taking you on, and you may have to query a lot of them, but if you can’t get detailed attention from them at all you probably aren’t ready to publish on your own.

  13. #31 by Dan Holloway on January 19, 2012 - 9:13 am

    I started self-publishing three years ago – hardly forever – and already things have changed beyond recognition, and in a way that, whilst what you say is very true, makes the solution very tricky. The problem is that since self-publishing became “acceptable” it’s also become mainstream. And it’s become media-friendly. And those media stories are totally dominated by exactly those books in favour of which the marketing boards of big publishers are turning over great quirky, experimental literary fiction. For the time being any attention self-publishing gets is going to be about bestsellers – genre fiction potboilers of exactly the ilk we already see on the shelves of Tesco and mass market non-fiction.

    So I think it’s too late to say we need media space for great self-published books. What we need is for someone in the media to pick up and run with great literary fiction that’s outside of both the UEA expat and hipster communities (of course most lit fic pundits are UEA expats or hipsters, which is much of the problem). I wrote a piece for PANK just over a year ago (http://www.pankmagazine.com/pankblog/reviews/we-need-to-talk-about-beside-the-sea/) about the differing media reactions to We Need to Talk About Kevin – a self-satisfied hipster wannabe piece of lit fic lite if ever there was one – and Veronique Olmi’s similarly-themed but infinitely subtler, darker devastating masterpiece Beside the Sea. It’s this dichotomy, this unwillingness to bring the edgiest and best literary fiction out of the corners of review pages and into the wider discussion forums where it belongs that is the real glass ceiling we face. It affects both self-publishers and tiny presses, though I’ll concede it affects self-publishers more because self-publishers of great literary fiction have neither sales nor a publisher behind them – and as smaller publishers *do* start taking more literary fiction (and there *is* a bit of a renaissance underway with publishers like Peirene, Bluemoose, Melville House etc), those who choose to self-publish will be further stigmatised by the media (the fact that we don’t want a publisher never was considered a legitimate reason and still isn’t – and again so-called indie authors who self-publish as a stepping stone do us no favours).

    The answer is we need to be very focused and carve out our own niche – both individually and together, though we need to be *very* wary when doing it together. Last summer I was offered the chance to be part of a collective alongside some very big names in self-publishing, because I’d self-published a thriller that had a modicum of success. It was a bad time for me – I was entering a minor breakdown and my mum was seriously ill – and I had to think very carefully and in the end decided it would have been a step too far despite the publicity. And I’m so glad now that I did, because with so little time available we have to use it very wisely. If we’re going to enter creative collectives they need to be of like-goaled people (I had two marvellous years with Year Zero, for example, that kick-started me in a way I could never have done on my own). Otherwise we’ll end up never standing out from the crowds. We need our voice to be distinctive and loud, because if experience tells us anything it’s that no one else *will* shout for us – but we have to shout through the clarity and quality of our work and not through traditional or even non-traditional marketing.

    • #32 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 10:48 am

      Terrific points, Dan. Your comment should be a post on its own.
      The highest-profile self-publishers at the moment are the ones who are being picked up by the huge publishers – which is how they’re getting the publicity. It’s like the book world’s equivalent of Popstars – not exactly looking for the most interesting, worthwhile artists.
      Or they’re the people like Joe Konrath, who bray rather unattractively about how much dosh they’re making on their own – but who don’t seem to acknowledge that they wouldn’t have got there if a publisher hadn’t supported them and their backlist for years beforehand.
      The truly ‘indie’ writer – who is not chosen for publication because they’re a bit too left-field – still finds it a struggle to reach an audience.

      There is now a danger that the public perception of self-published is these X-factor books. Not the provocative, challenging writers who are still struggling to be heard.
      Your comment about UEA makes me smile. There’s a mafia of creative writing graduates – not all of them, of course – who create a clique of superiority. Indeed I used to go to a crit group run by an agent (another agent!) and he had a very dim view of the manuscripts he got from UEA graduates.

      Carving our own niche is bloody hard work, though, if you’re doing it on your own. It’s much better if we can find collaborators – publishers, agents, other authors. But as you say, they have to be the right ones.

      Dave (husband) got to this comment before I did and has just read your Pank piece. I think you’ve gathered another fan. Off to check it out myself.

  14. #35 by Elizabeth Jasper on January 19, 2012 - 9:17 am

    I’m a UK writer and I’ve self-published two books on Kindle and Smashwords. It is far from easy to market your books as there is a ton of conflicting advice – it’s all a bit of a minefield but worse than that, there is a huge amount of opposition from some readers who want, or even expect to read your e-books for nothing.

    For example, in the Kindle readers’ forum, there are individuals who leap upon any indie writer who prices their work at more than pennies saying they should not be entitled to earn 70% in royalties because they don’t have costs and overheads like conventional publishers. Another reason given for attacking indie writers and their books is that they have not gone through the whole process of a stream of rejections before they finally ‘earn’ their success in getting a ‘real’ publisher. I’m sure I’m not the only indie writer who spent years and years going through that particular process without any success whatsoever for the reasons stated in this article. I write cross-genre books.

    I’ve been accused of being ‘greedy’ because my books were priced around £3.00. Until you have gained a readership, be prepared to work for pennies or even nothing. Indeed, with Amazon’s ‘return within 7 days’ policy, some readers even return free books!

    That’s not all – authors who have garnered 5* reviews are accused of getting friends and family or other writers to write these reviews for them. Some readers on these fora say they will not even look at a book that has nothing but 4* or 5* reviews because those reviews will be ‘false’. Yes, there are always people who will try to work a system, but they are in the minority and usually easy to spot. How depressing, when you’ve spent years learning your craft and produced a great book that is getting good reviews on its merits!

    New indie writers should be warned that it’s far from sweetness and light out there. Self-marketing is time-consuming, soul-destroying and can suck away the writer’s enthusiasm for their craft. It is very tough and many fall by the wayside. To succeed, you’ve got to be first and formost a good writer – then dedicated, persistent and/or lucky. You need to develop skills like marketing, learning to use unfamiliar software, editing skills, how to handle cover work, formatting for publishing packages and the use of social networking sites and more. Most of all, you’ve got to grow an extra thick skin to protect your fragile writer’s ego from the disappointments and criticism, often unwarranted, that will inevitably come your way.

    I wish every single indie writer good luck!

    • #36 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 10:53 am

      Elizabeth, I have never gone to the forums. I’d heard that they are the way to get a book publicised, but I’ve never had time to work them out. Now you’ve said this I think I might not bother.

      As you say, self-publishing is not the easy option. The peripheral stuff drains away enough of our time as it is. Fair criticism is one thing, but that is greedy, ignorant sniping.

      Thank you for the warning – and what a shame you’re in a position to give it. A pleasure to meet you.

      • #37 by Sally on January 19, 2012 - 12:06 pm

        Elizabeth, I’m meant to be taking my book to Kindle soon. I can’t believe folks on that forum are actually attacking anyone who sells their book for more than a few pennies. Who are they to tell anyone how to price their books?

        • #38 by Elizabeth Jasper on January 19, 2012 - 12:16 pm

          Please don’t let my comments put you off using Kindle – it’s a great concept and I love knowing people are actually reading my stories. Without Kindle may never have happened.

          No-one has the right to tell authors what they should charge for their work – but it is intimidating when a group of people gang up to try to force them to lower their prices – with a measure of success in many cases! It is wrong, wrong, wrong, but they are getting away with it and Amazon don’t intervene on their forum.

          My advice would be to keep off the Kindle readers discussion forum and concentrate on the Meet Our Authors forum, where promotion is encouraged by Amazon (They don’t allow promotion on the Kindle Readers’ Forum any more – due to those people hounding the writers) – It is definitely a good thing for writers to have a forum to introduce themselves and their work and most readers appreciate that – you can safely ignore the difficult few!

          Good luck!

          • #39 by Sally on January 19, 2012 - 12:49 pm

            Thanks Elizabeth – Sorry, I just meant the forum was off-putting, not that I wouldn’t publish on Kindle. I’ll take your advice as far as promotion goes and and avoid the Kindle forum. :)

      • #40 by Daniel R. Marvello on January 19, 2012 - 2:07 pm

        One forum I’ve enjoyed is KindleBoards.com, particularly their Writer’s Cafe section. KB has a lot of smart authors, readers, and graphic designers who are very free with their opinions. I put up my book cover for critique and got excellent feedback.

        A number of successful self-published writers participate in KB, so it is a great way to get marketing ideas and up-to-date perspectives on self-publishing issues. For example, when KDP Select went live, the board went berserk with discussion about the pros and cons. Since then, people have been sharing their results and assessing the value of participating. The info is all anecdotal of course, but invaluable nonetheless.

    • #42 by danholloway on January 19, 2012 - 1:18 pm

      I absolutely agree – there are many aspects in which one is on a hiding to nothing – price books too cheap and you’re accused of devaluing literature, too high and you’re greedy. All 4 & 5 star reviews? Must be fixed. All 1 & 2 star reviews? Book must be awful. It is enough to drive one utterly round the twizzle! Very very best of luck :)

  15. #43 by Viv on January 19, 2012 - 9:56 am

    This is why I finally turned to selfpublishing; I kept getting those letters back that said the same, not a big enough market blah blah.
    The trouble has been finding the niche my books need; and that is an on-going process.
    I find I look for books now among indies rather than mainstream, and find some beauties.
    xx

    • #44 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 10:54 am

      Viv, I know those letters very well. And the difficulty of finding a niche to pitch to. I just wrote my novel as a good read, not as a niche-filler. And I learned what I liked from other authors I like – who would not be published now, blah blah.

  16. #45 by Glynis Smy on January 19, 2012 - 10:17 am

    The publishing world is moving more in favour of the author than ever before. The opportunities to sell their books in varied formats is impressive. The big companies need big names to gain sales, while Amazon and the likes are content with the little guy. At the end of the day, both are selling books.

    My dream of an agent and becoming published has dwindled. I have a novel sitting on the desk of a small press acquisitions editor and have been waiting to hear back. She promised a response of some description but has been overwhelmed by submissions. I have now waited since the end of Oct 2011. Watching those who have s/p and having success through their own hard work, I am now beginning to hanker for the brains to organise my cover and go it alone. I think if you are prepared for hard work you can succeed with or without those at the top. If a book cover and back page blurb appeals to a reader-they will buy. Regardless of where and who has it on display.

    • #46 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 10:59 am

      Hello, Glynis! Yes it is tempting when you see people getting on and succeeding. I’m very glad I self-published my novel. Before, even though I’d got ghosted work out, I felt like I was being kept locked up by a mean-spirited school prefect. It was even more frustrating to be told ‘the book’s good and as readers we loved it, but we’re not going to stake our jobs on it’.

      If I were you, I’d nudge the editor again and tell her you’re considering your options. She’ll know what you mean. You certainly know enough people to help you through the steps to do it yourself. But see if she’s going to offer, because the right partner will get you a lot further than going it alone.

      • #47 by Glynis Smy on January 19, 2012 - 11:12 am

        Thanks for the advice, Roz. I know she is very interested in the premise, so maybe I will nudge her again.

        I certainly have got great support in my writing world from lovely people, who I can turn too, that is true. :)

  17. #48 by Sally on January 19, 2012 - 11:11 am

    lol @ Roz’s term ‘X-factor books’!

    I concur with what Dan says about the danger of ‘indie’ becoming ‘mainstream’. On the one hand it’s good that the stigma around self-publishing is lifting. On the other, there’s the ‘X-factor’ book problem, both real and imagined.

    I chose self-publishing largely because – to be truthful – I’m impatient. :D I have tried traditional houses before, but the wait is the biggest killer. Even a handwritten, ‘Your manuscript is excellent, but we can’t take it at this time’ still really boils down to a massive wait, and a ‘no’ at the end. I don’t want a kind note. I want a contract. And then the case for the big 6 is made worse with the claims that they are out of touch, are market-orientated, take too huge a cut, no longer spend money on promoting debut authors, and are unwilling to trust that their readers might actually have taste. If that sounded like a rant, it wasn’t meant to be! :)

  18. #49 by Mary Tod on January 19, 2012 - 1:29 pm

    Hello – this post resonated immediately with me. I have an agent (and that took an amazing amount of time) who believes in my book. For the past ten months he’s been taking it various places and despite comments like ‘riveting characters’ and ‘rich storyline’ and others, he cannot find a publisher for it. To make matters worse, the process is brutally slow with editors taking two, three of four months to respond. Frustration abounds.

    I write about the industry on my blog and totally agree that it’s broken. Sigh – and just when I found my passion.

    • #50 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 1:56 pm

      Mary, I know your pain. I couldn’t find an agent for years, despite having sold bazillions of books as a ghost. Then when I got one (after very serious flirtations with several others) she couldn’t sell my book either. It is an unbelievably slow process. If you are getting thoroughly fed up, have you talked to your agent about self-publishing at all?

      • #51 by Mary Tod on January 19, 2012 - 4:27 pm

        We have talked about it. For the moment, the decision is to stick with the traditional route. Something to assess again in a few months though. I have two other manuscripts as well. Might be a dottering old woman before they are published!!

  19. #52 by Jennie on January 19, 2012 - 1:46 pm

    Great post, Roz. This is one reason I didn’t even try to go the traditional route. A literary series with different protagonists in each book? There was no way a publisher would take a chance on that. So I’m going my own way and — as more of the readers who love the characters in Exeter discover it — I’ll build my own fan base and possibly have the option to go traditional if I decide I want to. The hard part is cracking the discoverability conundrum. When everybody who’s read it loves it, but the number who have read is still small, it’s discouraging. Patience and a thick skin seem to be prerequisites for going indie.

    • #53 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 19, 2012 - 8:39 pm

      Discoverability… I hear you, Jennie. It’s the major problem for indies. The only way I know of cracking it is with reviews. I’ve heard from a few sources that Amazon notices the number of reviews you have and starts recommending your book in its internal engines – ‘people who bought this bought that’ and so on. Sometimes in emails too. But fiction is darn hard to sell.

      • #54 by Jennie on January 20, 2012 - 12:26 pm

        And the challenge on that is getting those reviews – if all the people who have raved to me about the book posted a review, I’d have three or four times as many. And it’s a fine line between reminding readers who’ve promised and being an obnoxious nag. *sigh*

  20. #58 by Callie Kingston (@CallieKingston) on January 21, 2012 - 7:51 pm

    This post is spot on, and the reason I ultimately chose the self publishing route. The traditional model is broken on so many fronts. Frankly, it’s an outdated model: Gamble on a few formulaic titles, print thousands of books, ship to bookstores who return over half of them within a couple of months to be pulped, and try to make up the margin with overpriced E-books.Times change, and only the adaptable survive.

    Callie Kingston

  21. #60 by Ruthanne Reid on January 22, 2012 - 3:49 pm

    Thank you for this article! I’m in the USA, and I can validate everything you’ve said here, because it’s my own story. Agents have consistently told me unique work simply isn’t being picked up right now thanks to big publisher fears. Even if the agents love the story, they feel they cannot sell it.

    I will be self-publishing in the next few months, and proud to join the indie community.

  22. #62 by Theresa Milstein on January 27, 2012 - 10:30 am

    I wish there were better ways for indie published books to get the word out and I wish there were a better way to find out about quality self-published books. I’m sometimes shocked at the poor quality books that are hyped. It’s all about hook over substance.

    • #63 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on January 27, 2012 - 11:36 am

      It’s the age-old problem, Theresa. The people who shout loudest and longest get the attention. And sometimes they get the wrong sort of attention – people decide they’re shrill and tedious. The only fair way is forums or blogs where indie books are reviewed alongside mainstream books, and to the same standards. Readers don’t want something that’s ‘good for an indie book’, they want something that’s ‘as good as they can get from their favourite authors’. We need to find ways that the quality of the book can speak for itself.

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