Monday, August 1, 2011

Writers Walking on Eggshells

There has been a lot of interesting discussion about indie publishing lately. Novelists, Inc. has a powerful conference coming up that I'm going to have to miss this time. Unless things change in the next month or so, and then I'm going to break speed records paying the fee, booking a flight, and getting a room! So here are a few topics, and my humble stand on them:

  • Agents/Literary Agencies becoming publishers - Sensing that indie authors have realized they don't need agents, and to stay relevant (solvent), several respected agencies have announced new epublishing ventures. I see this as a conflict of interest. No way around it IMO. I would not be happy with my agent becoming a publisher.
  • Pricing - There are those who argue that free or .99 books devalue our work. Their stand is that we're communicating to readers that what we do isn't worth a decent (according to us) price. I say books have always been discounted, sold as used and remaindered in the traditional publishing business. I don't see how this is different, except authors are in control. So if your audience is willing to pay your price, then what does that have to do with other prices for ebooks? People who are fans of the Stephanie Plum series are going to buy it, even if another author is charging .99. If readers don't like a book, no price is going to get them to buy it (and not return it).
  • The indie publishing market is now flooded with crap - How is this different from any other time? Okay, so maybe it's just me, but I've seen floods of books before that sit gathering dust. Some of those were in bookstores.It only takes one bad book, maybe two if they're generous, for readers to stop voting with their money. And for them to tell their friends, "Don't bother." Readers will figure it out, trust them.
Finally, to the title of my post: in the old model authors walked on eggshells a lot. What do you mean, Lynn? Well, as a newbie author (back in the olden days) at RWA national conferences we were constantly reminded not to tick off editors and agents. Their time is precious, we were told. Don't talk to them in the elevators, don't approach them without an invitation. Be very careful not to offend them because the publishing business is a small world. You don't want to be that author who is the subject of the latest horror story being passed around at conferences, business lunches, and (egad!) on an agent's snarky blog. Now I understood the need to help authors with business etiquette, after all I didn't know a lot and was eager to learn. I abhor rudeness, and of course would never knowingly step on toes.

But somehow over time this morphed into most authors being treated as necessary nuisances (doormats), the low people on the totem pole who just had to take all kinds of crap and not respond. I even remember being told we had to understand of Editor A or Agent Z was having a bad day, even if it was our own editor or agent. We just had to grin and take it. "Be professional and suck it up", was the message. So a lot of us complied. Some grumbled about it (raising my hand here), but still followed the rule.

Bump that. I expect to be treated with the respect due a valued content provider. Like Miss Manners I would never stoop to reacting in kind to bad behavior (okay, sometimes I slip on this one), but I won't put up with rude, condescending behavior -ever-again. No author should. The reason publishers have books to sell (and make a profit on) is because you (authors, I'm looking at you) wrote a book that people are buying. The reason an agent is collecting 15% is because you wrote a book that a publisher paid for, and people are buying.

Now let me say I've worked with wonderful editors, and met respectful agents. So don't think I'm painting them all with the same brush. I won't detail the bad experiences, and some I've heard from other authors. I'm just saying that indie publishing has put us in the driver's seat as never before. Some of us traditionally published authors just aren't used this new role. Frankly, for a lot it's scary. Some have retreated to the comfort of having contracts and not having to think about covers, reading sales reports from various outlets (like Kindle DP and Pubit) and more. That's fine. There is no one way for us to get our stories out there.

But one new, and IMO refreshing, thing is authors now realizing they don't have to walk on eggshells when it comes to certain practices and behaviors in traditional publishing. Folks are speaking up in ways that would have caused gasps of horror just a few short years ago.



Charles Gramlich said...

As someone once said, 90 percent of everything is crap. SO yeah, not a big difference.

KeVin K. said...

When my response got to 500 words, I realized I had Wednesday's column already roughed in. So ..

Short form: An agent is the employee of the writer. Treating them professionally is just common courtesy.

For their part, agents only make money by representing winners and publishers only make money publishing winners. Their behavior towards new writers -- who are all potential winners -- is designed to filter out writers who are easily intimidated (and thus unlikely to win). Because while writing is a craft, publishing is a business.

But it's a business in a state of flux that borders on chaos. (Yes there's a barb about the changing marketplace in there.) Rules, and options, are changing daily.

And that is what my next column will be about.

Lynn Emery said...

Thanks for the comments. As for filtering out the easily intimidated, um. Some of the most shy, talented writers have become bestselling faves - I don't see the logic in that. Telling writers straight up the realties of the biz? That I do get.In any business professional behavior includes courtesy. I've never understood why some (not all) accepted otherwise in the business of writing.

Atlanta's GA Peach Authors said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marissa Monteilh said...

(sorry, meant to post this under MM) Lynn, I have waived the white flag so many times, and settled for going with decisons so that I wouldn't rock the boat, so I'm really feeling your post. I embrace the options as far as being in the driver's seat and taking the sales of my titles by the reigns, especially as far as ebooks. Eggshells are not fun to walk on, but the politics of it all meant it was necessary to do so. But just as editors, agents, etc., have had their say about certain authors - we need our say as well. Not being afraid to speak and not being afraid to say "no" to offers or decisions that don't match our needs/wants/talents is powerful. I feel you 100%!!

Lynn Emery said...

Hi, Marissa. You're so right about having the guts to say, "No". I can think of times I caved in when I shouldn't have.Just the words "politics of it all" brings back memories that make my teeth clench LOL

KeVin K. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KeVin K. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KeVin K. said...

(Had to delete and repost. I used '<' and '>' in my Abe Vigoda joke below and the confusing HTML tag apparently discombobulated the comment widget.)

I began life away from home as an actor. (In the Bay Area; the ACT, not Broadway, was my goal.) So it's natural that I began as a writer by writing plays.

If you think editors do terrible things to your work, try watching a director and cast of actors reshape your words into their image. In their minds they may have bought the vegetables from your roadside stand, but they're the ones cooking dinner.

This mindset is less emotionally intense in publishing, mostly because accountants don't invest their egos in their work, but it's still there. They -- by which I mean everyone not the writer involved in the project -- see the writer as providing the raw material which must be molded into a marketable product. They see themselves the source of the writer's income; the writer is the least essential and most easily replaced part of the marketing process. [Abe Vigoda]It's not personal. It's business.[/Abe Vigoda]

When I lose a fight with an editor (and I've lost many) over something I consider significant I take my name off the product, giving the byline to one of my fictional characters. (As long as the cheque reads "Kevin Killiany" I'm good.)

Lynn Emery said...


I've never taken it personally, not being emotional. For example, I don't see my books as my "babies" (when I hear a writer say that I flinch). However, IMHO, business has changed. For now, and who knows how this biz will morph, authors see that they have choices. When the "widgets" have choices, what used to be thought of as "that's business" is turned upside down. That's a good thing IMO.

Liane Spicer said...

Yes, good. I've never understood why basic business etiquette never applied to publishing.

Speaking of gasps of horror, over the past year or so I've seen authors speak out about unethical behaviour on the part of certain publishers in ways that would have gotten them blacklisted just a few years ago. Ah, brave new world.

(Agents becoming publishers, though? Wasn't that the mark - along with agents who edited for money - of a scam agent? Good grief - how much further is this industry going to devolve?)

Lynn Emery said...

Yes, Liane, brave new authors! Writers are speaking out bluntly about the problem they have with agents becoming publishers, or whatever hybrid they choose (helping their traditionally published authors epublish their back list). I remember only a year ago that writers being that assertive and publicly criticizing agents and publishers was rare, very.