The Pain Train is Coming…


And it’s headed for the publishing companies. At The Bookseller, an interesting report from Publishers Launch Frankfurt:

Robert Gottlieb, chairman of the US literary agency Trident Media Group [pictured], said publishers were still fixed in their traditional models. “American publishers have to get beyond the point when they are doing it the same way, over and over again,” he said. “It means cutting overheads, and changing their dynamics, and welcoming as opposed to resisting or being frightened of this new e-book arena.”

He said publishers should “embrace” the changes, and “then they’ll be able to look at what they are paying their authors in a knowledgeable way, and we will then see the rate moving up”. Gottlieb warned that new players such as Amazon had no such constraints and were “offering a higher e-book rate, and advances that are comparable with what others publishers are willing to pay”. He warned that publishers’ grip on the business was “starting to change in favour of the author”. He added: “Publishers are frightened to death of the e-book market, because they see the opportunity for authors, that they did not have before.”

Emphasis mine.

An attitude I’d heard expressed at a writer’s conference is that we shouldn’t base our decisions on the success stories of self-pubbers, because they’re outliers. Their success is the exception, not the rule. It’s serendipity and nothing else.

All things being equal, sure, I get that. But all things are not equal. Isn’t success in traditional publishing just as much of an exception? Isn’t it just as much from luck as anything else?

Think about it. You spend years pouring your soul into that first novel – or at least you’d better be. Then, you spend weeks researching agents and crafting the perfect query letter. This is followed by more weeks, stretching into months, of sending those queries out in the hopes of getting their attention. And if you’re smart, you’ve tailored each one of those letters for each agent.

A few get favorable attention. After months of watching your email and waiting by the phone, you finally get picked up. Hallelujah!

But you still have a lot more work ahead in order to make your manuscript presentable. At which point the process repeats itself once they start pitching your book.

In my case, I made it through the first couple of steps and then the agency that wanted my work went and opened up their own e-pub business. So I wrote them off, since they apparently couldn’t grasp the whole “conflict of interest” thing. And this was a fairly big agency.

The whole experience felt way too much like high school dating. And I don’t buy the “if you can’t get a deal, your writing just isn’t ready” argument any more than I believed I wasn’t good enough for the Popular Crowd in school. When I see some of the horrible writing that made it through the traditional process, it becomes very obvious that most of that process is about personal taste and little else.

And for the icing on the cake: at the end of all this you get an advance that in most cases is not enough to live on. But doesn’t that book look nice on the shelf at Barnes & Noble?

Screw that. Success found on someone else’s terms isn’t real in my book.

So how is that any different than the traditional route? With all of the middlemen and management layers involved before a finished product hits the shelves, how is that not any less dependent on luck?

The common denominator is quality writing. You might sell a few crappy ebooks on Amazon, but you’re not going to make a living from it. And you certainly won’t land an agent and a Big Six deal with crap. But if you write well and can tell a good story, your chances are better now than ever before.

It used to be that publishers groomed promising writers through the “pulp” system to prepare them for the big leagues. Seems to me that’s what is happening now with Amazon. Their latest imprint, 47North, is a perfect example. The ebook marketplace is their farm team.

It’s a great time to be a new author. I’m enjoying the freedom to approach writing as an independent businessman, instead of begging for attention from strangers whose tastes may or may not mesh with mine.

But make no mistake: it’s a lot of work. Even with hard work, it may not happen at all. I have no illusions about that. But getting a pub deal the old-fashioned way carries the same risks. So the question is, which approach do you believe will yield the best return on your investment?

Hmm…that sounds almost like…a business decision!

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