Gut-Check Time


Spent the weekend at the Context 24 convention, which was also my first sort-of writer’s conference. There were several good workshops and info panels, plus some noteworthy authors (most notably, John Scalzi. Nice guy).

One thing that I couldn’t escape noticing is how few attendees (that is, other aspiring novelists) were on board with the whole self-pubbing thing. Not sure what I expected, but it was surprising nonetheless.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. During any major paradigm shift, the first people to recognize it as such are probably going to be in the minority. I was absolutely clueless about it until very recently, and am still uncertain.

Is the new normal asserting itself, or will this be just another internet fad? Is it the right thing to do, or is it still career suicide?

I dunno. The big publishers are not doing well in the current environment, and neither are bookstores. This is reflected in the increasingly common stories of brazen rights grabs and agency contracts that are awfully close to indentured servitude.

It sounds like agents are freaking out more than publishers. As intermediaries, their business models are inextricably tied to getting a percentage of author income. If advances are dwindling, and more writers are going it alone with Amazon, then they have to be asking themselves where they’ll fit in once the dust settles. My guess is not many of them are liking the answer to that question.

Thus, more and more agencies are venturing into the e-publishing business. This is a bad, bad, bad idea, which was brought up during an author panel this weekend. Oddly enough, I don’t recall hearing anyone come right out and say “conflict of interest.” An author cannot know if his agent has truly done all he can to pitch his manuscript to the pub houses if the answer is, “I tried, they wouldn’t bite, but hey…you can always publish with us.”

Did I mention it’s a bad idea?

Periodically checking Amazon’s sci-fi and thriller lists, one can easily find a few do-it-yourselfers in the top 20. Making the NY Times top 20 would be better (I think), but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Especially considering that just a few years ago, self-pubbing meant you laid out a ton of money to produce a garage full of comparatively cheap-looking books, most of which never left said garage.

These days, the DIY’ers are pocketing 70% of gross versus 25% of net for the traditional authors. Assuming you’ve produced good work (professionally edited, of course) and can successfully market it, that’s the difference between full-time authorship and keeping your day job.

But it’s still scary. And exciting. I like the idea of essentially setting up my own business as a writer. The idea of control over my career is particularly attractive, because the query-wait-reject rollercoaster eats away at one’s psyche. The thought of leaving all that behind to chart my own way is hard to ignore.

Granted, a lot of people have traveled that road and failed. A few have done very well in the last 18 months. Electronic media has broken down an enormous barrier to entry, because I wouldn’t dream of doing this all by vanity press and having a garage full of unsold books.

More thoughts on this soon. Yes, I’m done with my current-events rants for now. Back to writing and all that goes along with it.

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