Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Taking the plunge

Many of my fellow Dorchester Leisure authors have done it. Several current Novel Spaces members have, too, including KeVin Killiany and Lynn Emery, and a former Novelnaut, Farrah Rochon, has been the latest to take that plunge. Are you curious yet? I'm talking about authors who were formerly published by traditional houses - and many of whom still are - taking the plunge into indie publishing.

I'm next, guys, and if you don't think this is a huge departure for all of us, then you have no idea how unthinkable the concept of publishing oneself used to be up to, oh, even one year ago - two at most. To quote The Next Web:

Indie publishing, the act of an individual person publishing a book, is not a new concept. In fact, for the last several decades such activities have been panned as ‘self-publishing,’ and dealt with an attached stigma that labelled any self-published author as second-tier, and not quite good enough to find a ‘real publisher.’

But everything in the publishing industry - an industry that has been badly broken for a long time - has changed: the technology, the markets, the distribution, and the newly empowered writers/authors who are blazing trails and managing their writing careers themselves. I don't expect to immediately start smiling all the way to the bank despite the good news from authors like Gemma Halliday who are kind enough to share their indie sales figures; I'm aware that many writers who are making significant money by publishing themselves have extensive backlists that generate most of the sales and stimulate sales of their new books.

What I do expect is to experience the satisfaction of self-reliance; whatever comes of this venture will be up to me, not to an army of intermediaries only tenuously connected to my work and who control every aspect of its publication while I stand on the sidelines, invisible, impotent and in the dark about everything from pricing to print run, release date to cover image. To paraphrase Lynn Emery, it's all about control. I no longer feel ambivalent about my writing and publishing ventures. I feel empowered, positive and energised - a startling contrast to the way I've felt over the last three years. Stay tuned - and wish me luck.


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Charles Gramlich said...

I guess it wasn't a big step for me to go and do some indie since I've mostly been published by the small press anyway. Good luck to you, of course.

Anonymous said...

My first book "Grave Passage" was published by a small press, but for my second book "Mediterranean Grave" I took the plunge and did it myself. You'd never know the difference from reading them. That being said, please read them!

William Doonan

Lynn Emery said...

Congrats on jumping in with us! Boy, has the world changed for writers, and it's not an "Oh no" kind of shift for authors. Nice.

Anonymous said...

Do you think the publishing industry is "badly broken"? I'd be interested to hear why. Admittedly it's changing, but badly broken?

Liane Spicer said...

Captain Black, traditional publishing has been badly broken for a long time and I'll need several columns to explain why and how. Right now the industry is changing and no ones knows whether it's for the better. What I do know is there's no way the old model was sustainable and here are just a few of the reasons:

Selection process: Most publishers don't accept unagented manuscripts. If a writer can't get an agent to believe, not just that her work is good enough, but that there'll be a large enough market for it, she stands little to no chance of having it published by a traditional house.

Advances: Little to none for new and midlist authors, obscene amounts for established and celebrity 'authors'.

Marketing: Again, little to none for any but the books by already established, big name authors, resulting in what the industry calls 'the death of the midlist'.

Print runs: Traditional publishers have a minimum of 5,000 because that's what the printers specify. The vast majority of books don't sell more than a thousand or two thousand copies which means that the vast majority of authors never earn out their advances and never see a cent in royalties.

Returns: Because of the traditional arrangement between bookstores and publishers, MILLIONS of books are stripped and destroyed every year. If that isn't evidence of a 'broken' system I don't know what is.

Rights: Because of the growing demand for e-books and their lucrative (for the publishers) royalty ratio, traditional publishers are now inserting egregious clauses in their contracts, clauses which seek to hold on to digital rights for the life of the copyright. That's life of author plus 70.

Accounting: More and more authors are currently in the process of taking legal action against their publishers because of the rampant gross underreporting of e-book sales and consequent underpayment of royalties. In the case of one publisher who will remain unnamed not only are they underreporting sales, but when rights revert to the author they continue to sell the books on numerous e-book sites. Try Googling this and you might be shocked at what comes up.

Royalties on e-books. Some companies are paying 4% on e-book sales. (Don't believe me? Want to see my contract?) Most are now raising that to around 25% which weighs heavily in the publishers' favour and is not the equal split between author and publisher as is (supposedly) the norm.

Treatment of authors: For years authors have been treated by publishers as a necessary evil. They, the people who provide the product, are treated with utmost contempt - unless they're one of the less than 1% whose books sell by the millions, and even some of those big name authors tell stories of being disrespected by their publishers. Publishing is the only business I know of where normal business etiquette and principles don't apply.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; it's ugly, exploitative and unsustainable... but the worm is turning. There are many good sites that discuss the 'brokenness' of the publishing industry. Here are just a few:

Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Passive Voice
Brian Keene's articles on Dorchester Publishing
How e-book royalties are cheating authors

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, thank you. :)

Liane Spicer said...

Williamdoonan, LOL! I've made a note to go look at them. I like the grave titles.

Liane Spicer said...

Lynn, thank you. Yes, the world certainly has changed.

Liane Spicer said...

Captain Black, to further elucidate the issue of e-book rights:

Currently, many authors whose backlists have gone out of print and whose rights have reverted to them are digitizing the books and publishing them themselves. (See the Gemma Halliday link in my post.) The insidious 'digital rights forever' clauses (well, for the life of the copyright which might as well be forever in practical terms) means that authors will not be able to do this for contracted books going forward. And people still ask why even top-selling authors are electing to go the indie route?

Jewel Amethyst said...

Liane, you go girl! I'm rooting for you while building the courage to do the same.

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you Jewel! :D It does indeed take courage.

KeVin K. said...

Way to go, kid.

(In discussing Kvaad Press with other writers I've discovered they fall into two broad groups. Those who say "I would never do that" and those who say "I can do that.")

I don't think the current independent, every scribe for themselves, publishing model is tenable in the long run. Readers don't have the time or patience to sift individual titles and a gatekeeper or marque system that simplifies the process is going to have to develop. I expect that process to be messy and marred by false starts. BUT the age of the traditional publishing system has passed.

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you KeVin.

I also think the traditional system is all but dead in the water, and that the current indie mish-mash is so far from perfect it will have to evolve into something a bit more... ordered. What that something will be no one can tell at this point.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the information Liane (and others). I've got a better understanding now and I agree that the industry has some serious problems.

Hmm, perhaps much of western society is broken.

Good luck with your ventures.

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you, Captain. I agree with you re western society in general. All the best to you too.