I’m not King

If you’ve published a book, you’ve probably found yourself asking “Why isn’t my book selling?”

Heck, let’s just be real here. If you’re independently published or even lounging under the umbrella of the Big 6, you’ve most definitely asked that question.

Oh, c’mon! Of course you have. We all have.

In this vast ocean of pages and ink and black pixels on white, Why isn’t my book selling? is the bond that links us, all of us — rich, poor, newbie, old salt, superstar, anonymous hack –, together.

And if you haven’t wondered Why isn’t my book selling?, well, let me be the first to welcome you, Mr. King. Or is that you, JK? Mr. Patterson? In any case, Hello!!! Glad you could drop by.

Any-hoo …

Trudging your way out of NoSales Desert isn’t always an easy thing. And, in the end, the answer to your How the Heck Do I Get Out of Here may not be up to you anyway. I’m as proactive as the next guy, but sometimes the What of what has to happen isn’t a Something you can do.

I mean, there are the usual culprits to look at first. The inevitable chaff to separate from your literary wheat. Your formatting sucks or your writing isn’t what it could be or your cover throws people off or the lack of reviews makes potential readers skittish or your price is way, way too high or, swimming in a sea of millions, people just don’t know you exist yet and you’re still stuck believing that somehow the book will magically market itself.

It could be any one of those things. And those are things you can fix. Sometimes.

What you can’t fix is Time.

Someone once said to me that a good book — a really good book with great writing and professional formatting offered at an appropriate price with a cover that is genre specific and really pops — takes a solid 6 months to a year to find its audience.

Yep, six months to a year. If you’re lucky.

Do some writers bolt out of the gate and become overnight sensations? Sure, if by “overnight” you mean a couple years spent building a readership on fan-fiction sites or laboriously crafting an online platform for the past three years via their blogs and websites and social media.

But most of us aren’t that prescient — or smart –, so instead of working our already strong internet presence, we spend the first several months wondering where in the heck we went wrong.

Which is where the second piece of advice from this very wise Someone comes in.

Instead of waiting for your book to sell, obsessing over the big, fat 00 on your sales chart, and wondering when it’ll get better, write.

That’s right.

Write.

His point, this Wise Someone of whom I speak, was that writers with more than one book tend to sell more. As if somehow readers feel more likely to commit to an unknown if they see the journey has the potential to continue past that first book. Furthermore, he insisted, books in a series tend to attract readers who prefer, well, reading series. They’ll buy one and then another and another until the end. And then look for your next one. If your work is good, of course.

I guess the point of this rambling missive is this:

You’re a writer, so write. Don’t worry about sales. Don’t worry about your plummeting ranking. Don’t woulda, coulda, shoulda yourself to death. It is what it is.

Just write.

If it means writing another book, write another book. I think every writer has more than one in them. You should by all means offer as much as you can to potential readers. If they like what you do in one, the chances are great they’ll follow through with your next.

So, get busy. Type The End, publish the book, open a new document, type Chapter One, lather, rinse, repeat.

If it means writing on a blog, go for it. In this day and age, the more readers interact with you, the better. For some, having a glimpse behind the Chapter Headings and discovering an opportunity to talk with the author of a book they’re considering reading could be a key selling point that tips it in your favor. Or slamming out a guest post on someone else’s site. Abso-frigging-lutely. Brilliant. Being a part of a community never hurts. And, again, the more who know you exist, the better.

Whatever can draw more eyes to your work, that’s what you want to do.

Besides, anything is better than looking at those double doughnuts on your sales chart, right?

JK’s Casual Vacancy

I was going to title this Post “reality bites”, but decided to play nice.

A rousing discussion got me thinking about the Why of a celebrated author receiving 1 Star Rankings from a staggering 42% of people over on Amazon. Are people just vindictive little howler monkeys — yeah, I used that phrase over in the comments elsewhere, but loved it so I’m using it again — and eager to tear down something they’ve built up because it’s become too successful?

Perhaps. Oh, okay. Probably.

But I think it’s a bit more complex than that.

You see, for the last hundred years or so, JK Rowling has been carried by a once in a lifetime marketing juggernaut not seen since Jesus was body slammed into immortality on the back of the Bible (a very clever bit of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th century PR if there ever was one).

Am I overstating things? Yeah, but a point is being made. Bear with me.

Having left the Potter Universe, the door of Hogwarts closed and locked behind her, she’s now trying to create a new universe. Give new people life. Dazzle with a new story. Mesmerize us in unexpected and, more importantly to her, different ways.

But it doesn’t seem to be working.

You see, if we look at things realistically, the success of Harry Potter was less about the brilliance of the Writer JK Rowling than it was her talent as a storyteller. It was the boy Harry Potter tapping into the angst and struggles and difficulties of being different and disliked. For being hated because of who he was, his scar forever branding him as an Other. It was about being trapped by a Fate others couldn’t understand. And being punished for it despite the fact you were going to save the world and the butts of everyone who now hated you. And beneath all that it was about the world not recognizing just how special and unique you were.

For YA audiences — a genre that was forgotten and on the verge of death before Potter came along — it was the equivalent of hitting their G Spot. Over and over and over again. They were Harry and Hermione and Ron. And so were their friends. Even if you were an adult, the books spoke to you, the hapless Potter and his wand exorcising your adolescent ghosts.

And that’s where the juggernaut comes in.

But it wasn’t about the writing. It was NEVER about the writing.

Now JK is asking that it be about the writing. And therein lies the problem.

No longer insulated by the success of the Potter Universe, people are rediscovering the WRITER JK Rowling and not the Hogwarts storyteller. And many aren’t liking what they see.

Which could be a good thing for her in the long run.

THE CASUAL VACANCY will be a hit based on the curiosity factor alone. But, if early reviews are to be believed, it won’t be beloved. In fact, it might even be universally panned as the worst steaming pile of dog dookie since 50 SHADES. Which lowers the bar for ol’ JK. Which makes the feverish excitement surrounding the release of the book after this a bit less daunting. Having been disappointed by her last one, people will expect less. Expecting less, they’ll go in with an open mind.

And that gives her a chance to start from scratch, really break the bonds of Harry, and have people rediscover her as a Writer who writes and not the woman who created Harry Potter.

Five books from now, will we remember the 42% who hated her first foray away from Potter? Probably not.

But I guarantee you we’ll be looking at JK Rowling as more than just the woman who brought us Hogwarts.

Obsession and Oblivion

From a recent guest post I wrote:

Why do I do what every indie writer does every single day?

Because I’m curious. No, scratch that. Because I’m obsessed.

This obsession can’t be stopped by the absence of a Big Publisher brandishing a goody bag of guidance and media connections. This obsession won’t be quieted by the lack of a sizeable advance propping up my bank account or the implicit promise of three martini lunches in suit-and-tie restaurants. With tablecloths. And flowers. Or not.

In fact, my obsession — perhaps I should be calling it a sickness by now? — isn’t even disheartened by this apparently endless wandering among the parched, wind-blasted dunes of NoSales Desert.

My characters, my stories, my books steamroll everything else into oblivion.

I don’t hate you

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.

Why?

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.

Isn’t there?

Lunch is on me

An Open Letter to the NY Times:

In a recent article — The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy by David Streitfeld –, you insinuate quite strongly that the 4- and 5-star reviews one finds for self-published authors on sites like Amazon cannot be trusted to accurately represent the work or the writer’s talent because there are companies out there that sell favorable reviews and, due to the possibility of a potential relationship between the Reviewer and the “Reviewee”, these reviews should be ignored or mistrusted.

Are there writers, like John Locke, who admit to purchasing reviews? Yes.

Do they perhaps help lift sales? Some would say yeah, they could.

Is this a well-known aspect of Marketing 101 that those at the Times are well aware of? Of course.

Does the fact that a company like this could exist and do business negate every single review a self-published author has ever gotten? It damn well shouldn’t.

Let me ask you this, NY Times:

How many times have your Reviewers had lunch with someone from a Big 6 Publisher right before receiving the free review copy of Star Author’s next book? Or even after a favorable review ran? How many times have your Reviewers received Thank You notes from Legacy Publishers for good reviews? Or birthday cards? Holiday cards? Phone calls? Gift baskets stuffed with expensive trinkets as a gesture of their appreciation?

How many times have those at the NY Times found themselves mingling at parties with those from Traditional Publishing? And how many NY Times Reviewers found their reviews edited by Higher Ups in order to cast a kinder, more ecstatic light on Star Author’s new opus?

More importantly, how many self-published books has the NY Times officially reviewed?

If none, why not?

If you’re going to write an article all but suggesting the reviews a self-published book receives should be discounted because of the potential for some kind of nefarious collusion between the Reviewer and the Reviewed, please be aware this may — and should — bring into question the veracity of your own Reviewers and the often cozy relationship you hold and have held for years with those obviously feeling most threatened by self-published authors: the Big 6.

So remember that the next time Mr. Publisher gulps down the last of his chardonnay, whips out his Black Amex, smiles, and says “Lunch is on me”.

Big 6 babies

Self-published authors are making gains. Ebooks are now a solid 20% of book sales on Amazon. Money is being made hand over fist and, let’s face it, it’s no longer flying by default into the pockets of Legacy Publishing.

And the Big 6 are now officially running scared.

How do I know?

Check out this article in today’s NY Times.

It’s about a company, now defunct, that sold glowing reviews to self-published authors including John Locke. And about how these glowing reviews drove sales even though the reviews were bought and paid for and written by people who admitted to having never read the book. And it’s sorta about how this is a common practice with self-published authors.

But it’s actually more than that. A lot more.

It’s really about the veracity of online reviews in general. And, more specifically, online reviews for self-published books.

So, that 5-star review your new release just got? The one from someone you don’t know and have never heard of? The one that, like, totally, completely made your week and lifted you out of your funk and drove you to write five more chapters for your next book?

The NY Times — which refuses to review self-published work, by the way — claims it was bought and paid for and not to be trusted. And so now potential readers will doubt it. And they should (says the Times).

How devastating could this be for self-pubbed authors like me? For people who DON’T use services like that — ’cause they do exist — because, frankly, self-pubbed authors like me don’t sell enough books to afford it?

Very.

It could be cataclysmic.

Needless to say there was no mention of the cozy relationship between Big Publishing and the NY Times. No doubting the veracity of the Times reviews for Big Name Author’s latest work. No questioning at all the quiet need for a publication like the Times to kneecap self-publishing by throwing doubt over one of the industry’s — not just self-publishing, but the INDUSTRY’S — most powerful marketing tools.

Nope, we self-pubbers evidently can’t get an honest review. They need to be purchased with cold, hard cash.

Well, fuck ’em.

My Martuk has 14 reviews on Amazon, many of them 5-stars, that I treasure. A couple are from friends, a couple more are from beta readers, and a few more are from fellow authors. The rest are strangers. And ALL of them have read the book. If it’s someone I know, I refuse to let them offer anything unless they’ve read it cover-to-virtual-cover. Why? Because it’s a damn good book. I’m confident about that.

Wounded King has three reviews. One fellow author, one beta reader, one reviewer I don’t know. All read the book.

The Elder. No reviews. Not yet. It’s new.

That the NY Times now wants potential readers to look at that feedback and those thoughts with suspicion just sickens and infuriates me.

But it also tells me the Big 6 are scared. Really scared. And if all they’ve got are cheap tactics like this, they should be.

Now I’m off to work on the sequel to Martuk. Seems like the best way to piss ’em off is to keep writing and self-publishing.

And to keep getting honest reviews from grateful Readers who will never be bought and paid for.

How to fuck up Twitter

Okay, I love La Twitter. Love it. Love joking around, reaching out, saying Hi, sending support and congrats and whatnot. Love that I’ve made some solid business connections and a few fairly good friends. Love that those I Follow are directors and producers and actors and dancers and writers and teachers and painters and sculptors and ordinary Joes and Jills who have a rollicking sense of humor. And I love that Twitter has the potential to be a very powerful marketing tool.

Do I Tweet excerpts to this blog? My new book? Interviews I give? Yes, yep, and hell yeah. Are they on constant rotation? God no. Do I actually get on and talk with people? OF COURSE! And that’s why Twitter has been such a success for me.

If you take a moment to dig beyond the black pixels on white and dive into the heart of what it COULD be, Twitter has a lot to offer IF it’s used smartly.

Smartly? Yeah.

Give me a sec while I pull on my Bitchy Britches …

What I hate — HATE — is having my TimeLine filled with Authors spamming me links to their books. “Riveting read”? I could care less. “Better than Clive Cussler”? Good for you. “Best book I’ve EVER read!”? Somehow I just don’t believe your Aunt Sally. “The next Stephen King”? Probably not.

Listen, I understand the desire to market. In the self-pubbing world, it’s an absolute necessity. How else will we find our audiences? But how effective will you be if your marketing degenerates into thoughtless bullshit that annoys your Followers and alienates potential Readers? Link after link after link quickly becomes a predictable, repetitive white noise and soon we find ourselves just … not … caring … anymore.

Okay, we got it. You wrote a book. Good for you! Congrats and good job! No, seriously. It ain’t easy, that’s for damn sure. Sacrifices were made, blood might have been spilled, tears certainly were shed. I have a book, too. A few, in fact, with more on the way. Books are not easy things to do.

Now, show me who you are! Why should I click your many links? Why should I buy your book? And why should I commit the time necessary to walk with you through your pages if I have no idea who you are and you evidently have NO interest in knowing who I am?

So listen up, Author:

Want to sell me a copy of your riveting read? Talk to me. Be a real person. Engage me when I Tweet you a congrats.

And DO NOT auto-DM me a “Thank You for Following” with a link to your opus and FB page when I decide to Follow Back. That’s a bit like staring at the ceiling before patting me on the back and then sticking your hand out for your $20.

Now, not all links are worthless trash. I discover A LOT of great articles and interviews via Twitter. That’s all well and good. I expect that kind of content from those particular Tweeps. These are people I’ve dealt with and enjoy. And of course people have schedules and can’t be on Twitter all day, so pre-scheduling Tweets is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

But what are you Tweeting?

I’m writing two books, one screenplay, and two plays. And that’s not counting the other three books I’m chapter mapping, the play I’m doing rewrites on, and the other screenplay I’m scene mapping. Oh, and the life I’m living. You know, dogs to play with, an Other Half to placate, family to love and/or argue with.

Twitter, for me, is like a mini-break. I get on, set the clock, give myself 15 minutes or so to absolutely annoy the shit outta people, and then, once that time is up, sign off with a “Gotta get to work on my WIP, Tweeps” and that’s it. Personal and to the point and I love it.

Maybe I’m a naive fool — definitely a strong possibility, kids –, but I kind of think of Twitter, sometimes, as a big book signing, minus the books to sign, of course. People approach me, like the link IN MY PROFILE (thank you), chat me up, we laugh, I answer their writing questions, we laugh some more, and, lo and behold, I find myself with a sale. Is that the goal? No, of course not. Buying my book never comes up nor should it. That’s not why I’m there. The goal is to make a connection and inject some enjoyment into my day. The sale is just a nice surprise and always gets a happy dance. Still.

And it didn’t come about because of a link in a Tweet or a snippet of a gushing review. It happened because, perhaps for only a brief time, I became a real person to them. I was no longer a name on a cover, but instead someone who took an interest in their writing, their career, their questions and confusion and doubts. Their successes, both big and small. It happened because I sincerely appreciated them taking a chance and reaching out to say “hey, I loved that excerpt on your blog. I’m a writer, too. Any thoughts?”

Oh yes. I have thoughts.

The best way to fuck up Twitter — or at least MY version of Twitter — is by hiding who you truly are behind a dizzying array of auto-Tweets. Choosing the easy path of pre-set automated links and gushing snippets and ALL CAPS urging me to BUY. Not caring enough about your potential readers to actually, you know, give a few minutes every now and then to put fingers to keyboard and say “Hey, what’s up?” and then actually reply to those who respond. Nothing turns off a reader more than Tweeting back a quick “Nothing much, Awesome Author with a Great Book. What are you up to?” and receiving nothing in return. I mean, really? How long does it take to type “Argh, working my butt off here!” or “LOL” or something?

Even three small letters is a hell of a lot better than condescending silence.

So, dazzle me not with empty Tweets riddled with hyperlinked blue. Dazzle me with who you are because that’s the person I’m going to find in your book, isn’t it? IF I buy it, that is.

And that, dear Writer, is up to you.

Welcome to Suckyville, population You

If you’re familiar with this blog, you already know my thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

If you’re not, it’s boils down to my suspicion that for most writers walking the self-pub route hooking up with a traditional publisher doesn’t really make sense.

But what if I’m wrong?

I’m gonna do the Devil’s Advocate thing here and try to figure out why oh why I, a writer who still does a happy dance when he sells a book, would want to cuddle up NOW on that Publishing love seat with a Major. By the way, notice the singular “a” and the lack of an “s” on “book”? Yeah, Majors are knocking down my door, I tell ya.

Any-hoo, there are several reasons to consider a Major, some of which I might cover in future Posts.

The selling of film rights is my focus today.

I’m a screenwriter. I’m also lucky enough to have longtime friends who are neck deep in that world, be they actors, producers, directors, etc. I know the desperation Hollywood has for new source material and the lengths they’ll go to find it. And I also know what it’s like for writers who find their books being optioned into films.

In most cases, it really sucks.

Yeah. It sucks.

Once you’re past the initial excitement of a movie producer actually LOVING your work and being wined and dined by Big Names in LA and then signing a contract (!!!!!!!!) with Celebrity Superstars (OMG!) being bandied about as possible Leads and, of course, having to seriously consider those Oscar nods coming everyone’s way (deep breath), the process kinda goes downhill.

What?

Yep. Immediate hard left into Suckyville, population You.

Because the reality is it takes a … long … time … to … get … anything … done … in … Holly … wood.

Years.

Anne Rice’s book “Interview with a Vampire” was optioned by Paramount before it was published in 1976. They sat on it for ten years and did absolutely nothing. For ten years. Once the option expired, the Rights reverted back to her — smart move, Rice’s Attorney — and she took it to Lorimar Productions/Warner Bros. who scooped them up before flipping them to David Geffen a couple years later. Co-writing the script with the uncredited assistance of Neil Jordan, Rice finally got her film made in 1993/1994.

And it only took eighteen years. From the first selling of the Rights to Red Carpet Premiere, eighteen years.

You see? Forever.

But she’s a big fish. And, remember, she infamously had NO say on casting even if she is Anne f’ing Rice.

So, what’s it like for us?

Let me put it this way: make sure your contract gives you tickets to the Film Premiere.

Truth of the matter is, once you sign away the Rights, whoever’s brought in to adapt your work into a screenplay has license to change whatever they like at the Studio or Production Company’s behest. No longer OWNING the story or the characters as it pertains to the Film, all you, the Author, can do is sit back and watch. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be kept in the loop.

And it can get worse from there. I could write a thousand or more words about how Hollywood conveniently forgets you exist once you sign away your Rights with an excited flourish. Months and months going by without a word from anyone about anything as your new BFFs suddenly go all MIA.

Which brings me back to why oh why would we sign with a Major.

Their Legal Department could — COULD — walk you through this. Their lawyers might — MIGHT — have a good relationship with Studio A and perhaps you won’t get screwed too badly. And the Major has stood in this room a million times before (perhaps) whereas you, Newbie Author #54, are stuck doing the I-can’t-see-a-fucking-thing tango with a chair while searching for the light switch.

And let’s not forget the Major knows EVERYONE in Hollywood. You know where Julia Roberts lives, if this Map of Celebrity Homes is correct. (it’s not)

In other words, it’s still up to you to know what you can and can’t get and what you can and can’t ask for.

Reversion of Rights? Sole Separated Rights? Derivative Works and Passive Payments? How about Freezing your Reserve Rights? What Credit are you getting? Is there a Production Bonus? What’s the formula for Residuals? Will there be Box-Office Bonuses? Will you be attending screenings, festivals, premieres?

Granted, the above questions might be more from a screenwriter perspective. But that’s another question that should be on your mind: what access will you have to the screenwriting process? Will they even consider letting you anywhere near the script AT ALL to offer notes or thoughts or WTFs or you-gotta-be-kiddings?

You know, if you’re a screenwriter as well, try and negotiate the writing of a First Draft with two or three rewrites. I mean, hell, you’ll be one of many, many, many writers brought onboard to make this “perfect”, so you might as well stamp your stank on that puppy and hopefully line yourself up for a Written By credit.

Why the hell not?

What I’m trying to say is one of the pluses of signing with a Major is the hand-holding you might get should Hollywood come a’callin’.

But first you gotta write a book — preferably a series — Hollywood will want to buy and build a readership the Studios know without a doubt will put their butts in the seats in a movie theater.

And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

It’s not you, Sue

I’ve gotten some private flak for my recent post on Sue Grafton and the interview she gave.

You know, the one where she called those who self-publish too lazy to do the hard work?

Yeah, that one.

But, listen, this isn’t about Sue. I have no doubt those who know her and love her and read her find her to be simply lovely. And, frankly, anyone who can write a series with titles based on the letters of the alphabet (I’m assuming G is for Gimmick?) knows her way around a keyboard … and the alphabet.

In fact, this isn’t even about the dismissive, condescending tone she used to describe, well, me … and 99.9% of the self-pubbed authors out there.

In all honesty, this is about the death of traditional publishing.

Okay, maybe death is too strong a word. Let’s go with extreme reluctance to grab the lifesaver we self-pubbed authors are throwing them. But even that gives us too much credit.

How about we just say We’re showing Them that We can do what We do without Them.

And that terrifies Them. (thus ends my brief foray into capitalized pronouns)

A cursory wander ’round Google will bring up all kinds of hits from well-established blogs and writers who’ve discussed this issue at length. So, if this intrigues you — and, if you’re a writer, it damn well should –, there’s a lot out there to read.

I’ve decided to take this bull by the horns in a more personal way.

One person who wrote me about the earlier post said that if I were offered a contract from a traditional publisher, I’d take it!

But, hand to God, I don’t know if that’s true.

You see, as a newbie writer, a contract with a Publisher would basically put me where I already am. I’d still have a book to write, still have a book to market, still have a book to sell, still have other books to write. The only differences would be A) I’d be under contract and more than likely have to alter what I write — bye bye, awesome freedom –, and B) I would not be getting the sweet royalties I get now.

Oh, and there’s a C) in there, too: I’d be not-so-gently penalized (Hello, Bargain Bin) for sales that underperform expectations.

Ouch.

When publishers make budget cuts — and, believe me, the floors are awash in red over there these days — the first things to go are Executive Pay and Star Author Perks.

Just kidding.

Marketing and Editing hit the chopping block first.

So, as a new writer, you’ll get a line edit looking for typos and grammatical errors, but you’re not getting any structural edits. Gone are the days when a pair of Wise, Experienced Eyes would look over your opus, highball in one hand, cigarette in the other, and say in a sonorous voice, “Listen, kid, trim here, give me more of Character A, pep up Character D, ditch Character B ’cause he’s a boring asshole, and lose that bit with the blue hat ’cause it doesn’t make sense”.

Nope. Typos and misplaced commas. That’s what you get as far as Edits go.

And marketing? You’re on your own there, too.

Sure, they may throw a tiny bit of cash your way in the very beginning. But, and this is the kicker, if your book doesn’t show strong numbers right away based on the small ad they ran in some obscure publishing magazine, guess who gets bundled with two other low performers and tossed deep into the shadows of the $1 bin.

Nothing you can do about it.

Shoppers will continue to find themselves face-to-face with Bestselling Author A’s Big Tower’o’Books the minute they escape the revolving doors while you languish deep in a box in a warehouse or far, far, far in the back of a shelf no one can reach.

You signed the dotted line, you agreed to it, you are contractually trapped.

And you no longer call the shots.

Oh, did I mention the royalty payments? If you’re lucky enough to sell a physical book, you’ll see perhaps 12% of that. Or 15%. Or 20% tops. If you’re lucky.

When?

Payments are sent quarterly. Maybe. There are all kinds of accounting gimmicks they pull out of their hats to buff up their bottom line and sap the happy from your checks.

And ebooks? You’re looking at maybe getting 20% to 30% of that. Maybe not. Accounting gimmicks apply as does the quarterly schedule.

So, in the face of all this ridiculousness the Author has no control over, why would I or anyone else who self-pubs go with a Major?

Well, if you’re as unknown as I am right now, you wouldn’t. If you’re Amanda Hocking or that 50 Shades of Grey chick, money. Up front. A lot of it. You sign away the rights, agree to a new series or something, shock your bank account with more numbers than its ever seen, and, finally, take a deep breath and relax.

And then it begins.

Your books no longer priced at .99 or $1.99 or $2.99, you lose a chunk of your audience. The marketing angle the Major decides on is fairly Old School and completely misses the mark ’cause they have no idea who your readers are. You do, but they won’t listen to you because, well, you know, you’re just the Author. Oh, and the new covers kinda suck.

But it’s out of your hands.

So is the fact that your books are no longer selling at the numbers they had been when they were self-pubbed, usually because your readers balk at the new price point and it feels like the work is no longer speaking to them. Because it isn’t.

The marketing budget for you is reigned in a bit. Your new agent assures you everything’s okay when you know it’s somehow not. You’re lost in the dark wondering when the next interview or book signing or whatever will be. And no one is returning your calls.

Surprise! You’re expendable.

Because the unspoken deal behind the smiles and three-martini lunches at restaurants with table cloths and violins (no, scratch the violins … too distracting) the Major will shower you with is that the numbers you have as an incredibly successful self-pub are the numbers you have to bring as a non-self-pub … and then some. If even a small percentage of your readers leave — which inevitably happens when a series ends or they outgrow the genre and move on to other things or the phenom hits its peak and then ebbs or, although your readers love you, they don’t love you enough to splash out $9.99 for something they used to buy for $2.99 or .99 — your numbers suffer.

And where will the smiles and tablecloths and violins (changed my mind, they’re back in) be then?

But there is a way around this.

A very successful self-pub whose name escapes me (apologies) just signed with a Major. For physical books. Only. He keeps the ebook rights and profits, they work the physical book angle and he gets the standard 15 – 20% or whatever.

Smart, yeah?

So, if a Major were to ever wine and dine me — and, let’s face it, the chances of my getting a gilded invitation to sup at Fancy Pants Restaurant are pretty darn slim — , that’s the kind of deal I’d make. And if they balked and hemmed and hawed, I’d walk away. A bad deal will never magically become a good deal. Best not to agree to it and then fan the flames by legalizing it with my Jonathan Winn.

I’d just go back to doing what I was doing well in the first place.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn awesome being self-pubbed.

It’s about time the Majors realized that.