Friday, December 04, 2009

When Self-Publishing Becomes Cash Grab...

I don't often rant about the publishing biz here on leftwriter, but something has recently attracted a bit of public notice, and as it has touched a nerve for me, I'd like to take a closer look.

Today's subject is the traditional vs self-publishing model.

My books are published by traditional publishers. I have to admit to starting in this business with a snobby, anti-self-publishing view. I believed people who published their own books didn't go through an adequate editorial process, they were not patient enough to go through the traditional route and they were prepared to put sub-par work out into the public, just for the sake of saying they had books in print.

I know now that while all of these things can be true to some extent, self-publishing isn't only a cesspool of the underskilled and unloved. I know of several people who make a living giving talks to large groups -- self-publishing works perfectly for them, because it allows them to get their books to the audience they want, and they have a built-in distribution system. And a know of a couple of cases where lightning has struck, and an author who has self-published goes on to get a decent contract with a traditional publishing house.

But for the most part, I still see companies who encourage self-publishing as predatory. They steal aspiring authors' dreams, wrap 'em up in a sub-standard package with little or no decent editorial input, and slap 2000 copies into the poor creature's garage, leaving them to sell the books through mercy-buys to friends and relatives. And they charge the authors for the privelege of being taken to the cleaners.

I know of _hundreds_ of cases like this. More. This is still the norm.

It is HARD to get published traditionally. It can be a brutal, soul-eating experience to have your first book published. But there is a reason for this. It's also very hard to make money as a publisher, and many, many people believe they can write books. These aspiring writers do it by the thousands every day. They write 'em and they write 'em...and the acquisitions editors at publishing houses have to read 'em.

The magic of a brilliant story, well-told is a comparatively rare circumstance. So, yeah -- it's hard to go through the process. But it is possible. [The living proof is typing these very words...]

When you do go through the traditional process, the advantages of traditional publishing -- even with all its flaws and foibles -- are manifest. Design teams for the cover. Editorial teams for the content. Publicity and distribution. All these things are missing from most self-publishing business models.

What this boils down to is that the vanity presses and self-publishing houses are in it strictly for the money. But surely even traditional publishing houses want to make money? Of course they do. But legitimate publishing houses make their money through the sale of books. Who do the self-publishing houses make money from? YOU. The self-published author.

I spend a lot of time sending the aspiring writers I meet off to writing workshops or conferences like the Surrey International Writers' Con. I hope they will have fun, meet new colleagues, learn the ropes of good writing. But I also want them to learn that if ANYONE wants them to pay to produce a book, they are not working in the authors' best interest. This includes people who claim to be legitmate agents who charge reading fees. This includes self-professed poetry journals who offer 'prizes' to poets, in exchange for the exorbitant cost of paying for the shoddily-produced book in which the poem appears. And this includes ANY so-called publishing house that charges the author to produce the books. These are NOT publishing houses. They are printers.

Sometimes the siren song of the money to be made through self-publishing lures even legitimate publishers. Harlequin Books dipped its toe into the water of self-publishing biz, recently, and the noise in the industry has been loud and clear.

But don't just take my word for it...

 Agent Kristin Nelson, Romance Writers of America & others [via Making Light] , Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers, Mystery Writers of America [via Richard Curtis].

It will be interesting to see what comes of this. The world of publishing is changing, and those of us who live within it are riding an amazing wave right now. But wherever people have dreams, there are always charletans out there, willing to take your money and not deliver.

If you are a beginning writer -- be cautious. Listen to your colleagues -- in classes, in conferences, in writing groups. Weigh offers carefully -- if they seem too good to be true, they probably are. There is no doubt it is a often a long, hard road to becoming a published author. But if you find a group of friends with whom to share the journey, the trip becomes a lot more enjoyable.

If you have thoughts you'd like to share -- do so in the comments. Let's talk about this!

And to finish? A tip of the hat to blogger/agent/author Nathan Bransford. He calls this little clip the future of publishing.

He may be right.


No comments: