If you’ve visited in the past few days, you probably think I have some irrational, uncontrollable hatred or animosity or something for Legacy Publishing aka the Big 6 or Traditional Publishing.
Granted, this rant and that bit of angry hoo-how would certainly give you that idea.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
I don’t HATE Traditional Publishing.
Really! I don’t!
Without them, I would have grown up without books. Without them, my imagination would have floundered. Without them, my creativity would have withered and died. Without them, I would not be who I am and where I am.
And, without them, there’d be no vanity press, no online publishing, no self-publishing via Amazon.
In fact, in many ways, Traditional Publishing is the parent of Self-Publishing.
A distant, unloving, hyper-critical, potentially abusive parent. But a parent nonetheless.
The anger I feel toward the Big 6 has more to do with their apparent attitude toward self-published authors than it does with who they are or how they operate, even, ostensibly, through surrogates. (cough) NY Times (cough)
Listen, it’s one thing to be rejected by a Publisher. Happens all the time. No big whoop.
It’s another thing to have those at the Big 6 not want you to publish PERIOD.
It seems like it’s no longer enough to ignore you outright or have an intern toss a rejection letter/email your way. Now they have to bludgeon, bloody, and belittle what’s becoming a strong cornerstone of an increasingly viable industry.
From questioning the quality of the work and the work ethic of the authors to throwing doubt on the veracity of the reviews, it looks as if Legacy Publishers are hell bent on destroying self-pubbed authors.
Is the royalty check I’m getting this week — my own version of “One small step for my bank account, one … giant leap for my bruised Writer’s ego” — really that much of a threat to their bottom line? Is the fact that ANYONE can publish and, therefore, the Big 6 no longer decides who does and doesn’t end up in Readers’ hands killing them that much? Do they so desperately need to be The Gatekeepers that they’ll stoop to staining the collective reputations of authors who, collectively, are hardly a threat to their more established Superstars?
Why? (I ask again)
Listen, I understood early on that what I write — my story about a haunted immortal desperate for redemption lacking vampires and werewolves and wizards and a clean, easy fit in the YA genre — wasn’t what New York was looking for. That’s why I didn’t submit it.
As I said in the Comments to this great Post over on Carl Purdon’s blog, I could spend years perfecting a query letter to land an agent and then try to get published — which could be several more years — OR I could self-publish and spend that time building an audience and writing more books.
That Legacy Publishers would seem to have a problem with that is, frankly, confusing.
That they’d apparently take fairly overt steps to diminish us is what angers me.
So, I don’t really have a problem with Traditional Publishers per se. As long as they let me do what I want to do, why would I?
All I ask is they give us self-publishers the same respect and allow us the chance to find our Readers.
At the end of the day, the Publishing World is a vast, endless ocean. I’m sure there’s room enough for everyone.
I think there’s an inherent problem in this whole issue and why the Big 6 seem so anti-self publishing. Well, that’s not too complicated…it threatens their profit margins IF a novel is hugely successful.
But surely on the volumes that self-publishing will work, the Big 6 cannot be financially threatened…CAN they? Surely they are so far away from the SPs for their precious investments to face any trouble. Aren’t they?
Of course, we can appreciate that the Big 6 will have to wade through literally THOUSANDS of submissions, and perhaps they are right in sending the vast majority of them back to the writer because they simply aren’t good enough for their shortlist. But if, for argument sake, they know that they have 10 great novels on their desk but can only publish 5…surely those other 5 great novels should be out there being read, gaining readers, engaging more and more people in the joy of reading that will inevitably PROTECT their long term investments in developing readership.
Is there not some kind of pro-active middle-ground that the Big 6 can offer to occupy here? Again, as I say, we need to appreciate that they can’t publish EVERYTHING (they’d saturate the market) but there will be many superb novels gathering dust in draws and on shelves.
Now there is a medium for getting novels out their to be read by the public. What about endorsements? A non-financial recognition system to say a novel is “supported” in some way by one of the Big 6 who say (in their commitment to getting as many people reading as possible) that this is not a novel they can publish RIGHT NOW, but it is a good novel worth support.
Ok, that might be a stupid idea. Not being a novelist I would openly hold my hands up to say that could be a ridiculous notion. But I am a playwright often scuppered by the catch 22 situation of: no publishers are interested in publishing a play unless it has been professionally staged…and very, very few professional theatre companies are willing to give it stage time without publisher backing.
It is the literary equivalent of the homeless person trying to get a job in order get somewhere to live…but ironically needs an address to get a job!
Isn’t self-publishing the bridging gap here? And isn’t a self-published novel at the mercy of very discerning readership?
Being from the UK, maybe my views differ here…but the publisher of a book has absolutely NO bearing on my choice to buy a book. In fact, books/novels/autobiogs that I know some of my contacts want to write will never be published by the big names for political reasons attached to the issues the writer is addressing, and yet what the books need is the mass-copy and mass-production POWER the big publishers can yield.
And this is what it boils down to, isn’t it? Power. Money is power. Big publishers can afford the billboards, the TV adverts (commercials), the mentions in papers…et al, and in turn they can perpetuate a self-supporting supply and demand cycle that allows their capitalist fingertips to remain deep inside the many social pies.
Small publishers, writers and, therefore, SPs must rely pure and entirely on the credibility and strength of what has been written.
Let’s face it…there is a huge amount of talentless tripe out there that gets out there simply because the Big 6 can make a quick buck off it in the 12-18month shelf life of the demand. The UK music scene works a lot like that, and after the massive success of the novel-film endorsements such as “Harry Potter”, we are in the UK at least subject to a lot of the fickle tastes we endure simple because the bigwigs with the dosh can afford to thrust it upon us…
What SPs achieve is no thrusting publishing power…they can only sew a few seeds in the huge field that is the world of literature. But rather than stamp on those baby saplings with big boots, surely the Big 6 can at least watch to see if it grows. If it doesn’t and is killed off by an honest winter frost of readership opinion, fine – no harm done – but if that sapling grows into a mighty oak and promises to spread into a forest, surely the Big 6 would each want to be the first to say:
“We couldn’t back you in the first harvest…but we’d seen what your crop could do…how about joining our farm now?”
Thank you, Colin. Always nice to hear from you and I LOVE having discussions like this.
Yes, the Big 6 can’t publish everything that comes through their doors or even always recognize, with the overwhelming depth of their slush piles, the Next Big Thing.
And you’re right that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are just dreadful. The ol’ Catch 22 of more ambition than talent, me thinks, coupled with a discerning lack of brutally honest beta readers.
Trust me. No first draft is amazing and fantastic and “made me cry”.
That being said, there will be no middle ground between SP and the Big 6 simply because the Big 6 won’t get involved unless it makes sense financially for them to do so (a point you mentioned, I believe).
To do that — and to attract more bestselling self-published Authors to the fold –, Traditional Publishing is going to have to change that antiquated piece of machinery they call their Royalty Structure (or at least that’s what I call it).
Without that — and why WOULD a successful self-pub give up a 70% royalty paid out every month for, at best, a 35% royalty (for ebooks; print is much less) paid out quarterly? — it’ll be harder for SP and the Big 6 to find common ground.
You do make an excellent point about the discerning readership self-published authors often have.
With the Big 6, they have a very deep list of authors who’ve been blessed with very long careers and, let’s face it, a solid 80 to 90% of the first month’s sales are from those who’ll buy ANYTHING that person puts out, good, bad, or indifferent.
With SPs, we’re strangers to them — at least in the beginning — so we have to knock it out of the park in the first few pages. Not just a great beginning hook, but cleanly formatted, no typos, strong grammar and sentence structure. The whole 9 yards.
Silly to say, isn’t it? That we’d have to, you know, show we can spell correctly and use the English language properly and format a book so it’s readable?
But the tripe that preceded us in the early days of SP is still, for many, a vast mountain to climb. So the lens is on us a little stronger than, say, a new author from the Big 6. By virtue of being published by a Major, they’ve already gotten a collective Thumbs-Up.
Doesn’t mean the work is good, of course.
To circle back to your earlier point, though, I don’t know if common ground can ever be found.
Faced with a royalty structure that’s out of touch and marketing budgets that are often no more than a couple bucks for newbie writers, it’s just making less and less sense for a successful SP author to give up their freedom and hand their burgeoning career over to a Major who decided AFTER the SP had done all the grinding grunt work that goes into finding Readers and achieving some sense of financial success that NOW they’re good enough.
I think the Big 6 are going to have to step up their game and offer something more, from now on.