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I asked on Twitter a while back why, if e-publishing is so successful, so many self-published e-authors are still promoting themselves by bashing commercial publishing.  Instead of, you know, promoting their writing.

To be clear, I’m not saying that all self-published authors do this.  But there are a number whose public personas spend most of their time going on about how awful commercial publishing is. And I finally figured out why their rhetoric bugs me so much.

It’s because this is the same stuff I’ve been hearing for years … only a decade ago, it was coming almost entirely from scammers and vanity presses.

Take the author who cited Snooki’s book as proof that commercial publishing is imploding.  New York is only interested in celebrity trash!  There’s no room for the truly original, so your best bet is to sign with Publish America e-publish your own work.  (See First Book Friday for a list of non-celebrity authors who sold their books to major publishers in recent years.)

Another e-published author criticized commercial publishing for being too slow.  Why wait two years for your book to come out when Publish America can release it within a week of signing the contract you could self-publish through Amazon and start earning 70% Kindle royalties within 90 days?  (Assuming you don’t care about things like editing, good cover art, pre-publication publicity, and so on.)

But commercial publishers want to rip you off!  Look at these e-published authors who are selling like crazy, getting 70% royalties and making tens of thousands of dollars every month.  It reminds me of the way Paolini used to be “proof” that self-publishing was the way to go.  By the same logic, don’t Rowling and Meyer prove that commercial publishing is the best choice?  Because that way you can become a bajillionaire like them, right?  (Paraphrase: Don’t use outliers to make your arguments.)

Whether it’s the old-school scammers or the new indie author with a grudge, we all know the real enemies are the evil, greedy, clueless editors and agents.  The people who are only in it for the money and wouldn’t know a good story if it hugged their face and planted a book that burst out of their chest a few days later.

The only problem being that this is bullshit.  Most editors love the field, and love discovering new writers and new stories.  The agents love signing new authors and watching their careers take off.  These are jobs that eat up a hell of a lot more than 40 hours a week, and if you’re just in it for the money, then you learn pretty quickly that you chose poorly.

Are there bad editors and agents?  Of course … just like there are lousy [insert any other career here].  What’s your point?

I’m not against e-publishing.  (Heck, I’m about 90% ready to e-publish Goblin Tales.)  I know not all e-published authors are taking this approach to self-promotion and publicity.  But to those who are, well, when so much of your playbook seems to have been swiped from Publish America and their ilk, I hope you’ll understand why I look elsewhere for worthwhile information and conversation.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 65 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 14th, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
One nice thing about author and editor blogs is you see a lot about where the time between 'I finished writing Awesome Novel!' and 'New Book Day! Awesome Novel has hit the stores!' goes. And that many writers spend the time between those two events working on Daughter of Awesome Novel and Sexy and Exciting New Series.

It's easier to accept 'years' when you can see 'okay, we edit this puppy and get cover art and make sure marketing is talking up your book and see who can give us blurbs, and okay, check to make sure we spelled your main character's name right before we print this'.
Feb. 14th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. A lot of people don't understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes into turning a manuscript into an actual book, be it print or electronic.

Heck, even if publishing was instantaneous, it still takes a lot (not all) of us at least a year to turn out a good book. Eliminate the publishing delay, and you're still waiting for the authors to finish the next one.

"check to make sure we spelled your main character's name right before we print this..."

Not to mention the author's name on the cover!
(no subject) - nonnycat - Feb. 14th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Feb. 14th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - laurahcory1 - Feb. 14th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 14th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
The people who are only in it for the money and wouldn’t know a good story if it hugged their face and planted a book that burst out of their chest a few days later.

LOL! I needed that this morning.
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:07 pm (UTC)
Good thing you didn't tell them about our parties where we celebrate all the dreams we NYers crush on a regular basis.

Whether it’s the old-school scammers or the new indie author with a grudge, we all know the real enemies are the evil, greedy, clueless editors and agents. The people who are only in it for the money and wouldn’t know a good story if it hugged their face and planted a book that burst out of their chest a few days later.

Ah, but Snooki's book still outsold most of my friend's recent releases. Those evil sorts are paid well because they release books that *sell*.

Edited at 2011-02-14 03:07 pm (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
"Those evil sorts are paid well because they release books that *sell*."

Oh, pah. Next you'll be telling me that publishing is some sort of *business* instead of being a magnificent dream-crushing factory spun from cotton candy and unicorn hair.
(no subject) - tsubaki_ny - Feb. 14th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 14th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
"A lot of people don't understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes into turning a manuscript into an actual book, be it print or electronic."

And that's also why a big part of the efficiency of ebooks is more about efficiency of distribution, and not manufacturing. The amount of dosh you save putting out an ebook vs. a paper book isn't as big as it might seem when you take into account the whole process behind getting that book to market.

I review books on the side, and one of the publishers I talk to a great deal showed me how the major costs in producing any of their titles lie in acquisitions, licensing and translation. (They do a lot of titles in translation.) The actual cost of making the book comes at the end. Without a clean ms. ready to go to the printer's, they don't have much of anything.

I really don't think most writers understand the mechanics or finances of book publishing. I know for a long time I didn't -- just like my understanding of a great many other things was dead wrong -- and had the same distorted viewpoint as many of the pro-self-pub tub-thumpers.

What I'm waiting to happen is for some kind of promotion network to rise up and assume the de facto position of providing advertising and distribution for self-published authors. So far it falls largely to the author himself, which means he's at the mercy of having to buy airtime or ad space out of his own pocket. Twitter and Facebook can be used to generate buzz, but only up to a point. As long as most people find out about their reading tastes by reading what most other people are reading, they're going to be stuck at the margins forever.
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
There's a lot I don't know about the self/e-publishing scene right now. I get the sense there's a kind of community of e-readers, especially with Kindles. (The Kindleboards get mentioned a fair amount, for example.) I don't know where things are going to end up, but right now as we muddle through this transition/evolution phase, that seems to be where some of the advertising/gatekeeping takes place.

But like I said, there's a lot I don't know, so I could be utterly wrong on this one.
(no subject) - sixteenbynine - Feb. 14th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
I never understood the need to bash commercial publishing. The editors and agents I know love reading, love books, and love to find new authors. They aren't perfect, and some are less perfect than others, but as you pointed out, that's not the private domain of publishers.
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC)
Ever meet someone who handled rejection *really* badly? That's why.
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 14th, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for writing this. Hearing self-published e-authors use the words "traditional publishing" drives me up a wall because they are (unintentionally) legitimizing the language used by the likes of PublishAmerica.

Actually, it's not just self-published e-authors. I hear it all the time on, for example, the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast. The interviews on the podcast are terrific, but the pre-interview segments sometimes co-opt the language of vanity presses to talk favorably about e-publishing.

I'd thought the last thing supporters of e-publishing would want is to conflate themselves with vanity presses. Apparently, I'm just wrong about this because it happens all the time.
Feb. 16th, 2011 12:31 pm (UTC)
So, what would you call the opposite of self-published?
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 16th, 2011 12:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 14th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
I'm presently going through a novel that will be coming our soon as an enovel through an established indie publisher. I am going through it with his editor. She's working hard with the polish. She is making my novel better than it was.

I've just finished working through revisions suggested by my agent on another novel. He, too, worked furiously with the polish. It is a better novel after his work than it was before.

I don't know how the enovel will sell, but I'm confident that the publisher will be doing his damndest to get it out there in front of the people who might want to buy it. He's an experienced publisher. I believe he knows his job, just as I believe Amanda and John know theirs. My only doubt is whether I know mine and I'm very, very glad to have their help. I'll be the one getting any glory (and, I hope, my contracted royalties) but will I have been the only one earning that glory?

You know the answer to that.
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
So much of this ends up sounding personal, sort of: "They didn't recognize my genius!!! They will be sorry when I hold the world ransom for Twenty Bazillion Dollars make a thousand dollars overnight!! Muhahahahhaha!!!" Then you get to sell your book to everyone else who's genius wasn't recognized at the Under-Appreciated Geniuses meeting next month. Which isn't to say that there aren't good books out there that get published, and I've certainly had the misfortune of buying terrible books that did, but the people taking rejection personally are not going to found a lasting movement.

(I do buy books from small presses relatively frequently, like Kegedonce Press (http://www.kegedonce.com/), that would probably not be published by a mainstream press. But most of those books I'd never have found if they weren't published by a press who's taste I've agreed with in the past.)

So yeah, mostly I ignore anyone who talks like that even if I agree with them.
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, it definitely has a lot of that flavor. The Unrecognized Lone Genius is a trope I run into a lot in the self-pubbed circles. I almost ended up like that myself, which is why it's all the more sobering and chilling when I run into other folks being that obstinate.

Bitterness is never a good foundation for creativity.
(no subject) - sylvanstargazer - Feb. 14th, 2011 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 14th, 2011 03:47 pm (UTC)
It's because they are catering to an audience of aspiring writers, and that is what aspiring writers want to hear. They don't want to hear that they have to work to improve their craft, and keep trying over the long term. They want to hear that there's a quick and easy solution and that they don't have to change anything they are already doing.
Feb. 14th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
Yes! This is exactly what's happening. It just drops my jaw.
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Feb. 14th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
"The people who are only in it for the money and wouldn’t know a good story if it hugged their face and planted a book that burst out of their chest a few days later."

LOL! Good one.
Feb. 14th, 2011 04:18 pm (UTC)

Oh, Jim, this exactly how I feel too. Seriously, you just summed up my thoughts on this entire situation perfectly.
Feb. 14th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
What bothers me more is the people who talk out of two sides of their mouths. First they tell you how terrible "the system" is and how they are going to circumvent it by going outside of it. In the next breath, they say, "I will sell so many copies, NY publishers will be banging on my door!" Sometimes it's the less harsh, "I'll just get this one out there and then I'll have a 'publishing credit' behind me when I write the next novel."

Setting aside for a moment the fact that a self-pubbed novel is not a publishing credit, or the fact that one does not need 'publishing credits' to sell a first novel, it seems that the rebel writer is trying to get the attention of big, mainstream publishers by dissing said publishers. So, "I will beat them at their own game! Then...join them!" It makes no sense.
Feb. 14th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
I think the bash-traditional-publishing thing is happening so much because it gets attention, and attention is what these authors need. Positioning yourself as an expert on the wave of the future looks like a higher platform than just describing your new epublished novel. They're joining a discussion that is hot right now, hoping to boost their bandwidth.
Feb. 14th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC)
Pretty much by definition, if you spend most of your time bashing the other side rather than defining your own, you don't have much of a side.

I've been dipping my toe into self-pubbed ebooks, and mostly I've been fairly unimpressed at the quality. Hilariously bad, yes. (I admit I occasionally seek this out, because nothing cheers me up like gay butterfly-winged elves who keep forgetting about the guy trying to kill them for more over the top sex, and will gladly pay two dollars for stuff that looks to be hilariously over the top bad.) Good enough to make me buy more by that author or mention it to a friend, not really. Most of the more over the top rhetoric I see about it just make me wish they'd be more realistic about their writing skills, to be honest.
Feb. 14th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
I really hate it when I see all the commercial publishing bashing. I'm not particularly inclined toward e-publishing or self-publishing anyway, but all the negativity is still such a huge turnoff for me. I've come across several people who have attacked my decision to start by actually submitting to agents instead of just putting my work out there for readers to see.

I doubt I would have been convinced even if those people I spoke with had been more positive because of my own particular situation (I have few resources, so I can't just spend money on things like cover art, and I really hate computers). But by going the negative route, both the people I've encountered and the people you're talking about are probably turning some people off. I think as more people become invested in author blogs and seeing what goes on behind the scenes fewer people will be willing to buy into this sort of rhetoric. Or at least that's what I'm hoping, anyway.
Feb. 15th, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
I used to work in an online store that sold RPGs, and so spent a lot of time typing up the back cover blurbs for the new ones that had just come in. That's a very different sort of market from the novel market: tiny companies (often consisting of a single person) are more the norm than the outliers, and even the "big" companies are pretty damn small. So there's a heck of a lot of self-publishing there, and self-publishing as such isn't seen as any particular mark against a book; you're hugely limited in your options if you restrict yourself to stuff that comes from companies consisting of more than a few people, or where the person writing the book isn't one of the people who owns the company.

...and yet I could always tell when a game was going to be bad, no matter how much or little money went into cover art (or even editing), because the back cover copy would spend all its time describing how much better this game was than Traditional RPGs. And usually by "Traditional RPGs" they meant D&D, because that's the big visible one, in much the same way self-published novel authors talk about celebrity autobiographies when sneering at the failures of "traditional publishing". It was practically a game: the sooner in the back cover blurb it started talking about its superiority to other RPGs, the worse the game itself was going to be.
Feb. 15th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
I've been reading some entries about self-publishing vs traditional publishing by Kristine Rusch. This one is fairly harsh on the current state of commercial publishing -- although I wouldn't call it "bashing"; the author is certainly at pains to state that publishers are not doing this to be vicious or greedy. Anyway, I'd be interested to hear what you think of what she wrote, if you happen to have the time and inclination. :)
Feb. 15th, 2011 06:50 am (UTC)
Your facehugger comment made me laugh and cry at the same time. Well done!
Feb. 15th, 2011 08:46 am (UTC)
I've seen the rhetoric you describe, and I agree that it is misguided.

I would venture to say that the perception in some of the indie crowd appears to be that the rhetoric is not one-sided - that they really do have people telling them that their business model (and, by extension, their writing) is somehow illegitimate or inferior. However, I don't feel that folks in mainstream publishing (authors, editors, and agents) are really the ones behind this, most of the time. Sometimes? Absolutely. But I think more often it's unpublished writers and indie authors getting into pissing contests about the definition of legitimacy.

Because let's face it. The publishers currently have their hands full. They're still dusting themselves off after the recession. Large and small booksellers are closing their doors at an alarming rate. Ebook sales are taking off, but print ain't dead yet. In fact, it's still 90% of the market. Industry predictions on where things go from here appear to range from "maybe 20% ebooks by 2020" to "80% ebooks by 2014, obviously," which I take as shorthand for "nobody really knows."

In short, I'm not convinced NY publishing is even paying much attention to indie authors. I don't mean that in a "they aren't looking for good writers anymore" way, either. I mean it in the way Bank of America wasn't paying a lot of attention to competition from some credit union in North Dakota during the mortgage meltdown. Publishers are watching ebooks with great interest, and I think it scares the bejeebus out of some of 'em, but small presses are nothing new, even if it's a "press" of a single author. Aside from snapping up an ebook success story here or losing a midlister to epublishing there, what does it matter to them?

Small businesses often thrive in times of change, and there are a fair number of indie authors who are clearly doing very well. Good for them. But they didn't do it by finding people to blame for their mistakes. They did it by working hard, trying new things to see what worked, and learning from the mistakes they made along the way. And the best of them acknowledge that they got lucky, too.
Feb. 15th, 2011 01:09 pm (UTC)
Great post, Jim. And I think dayzdark had a good point there, as well -- Any way you cut it, there's a lot of hard work that goes into publishing and selling a book.

I'm curious about this dicotomy between self-publishing and commercial publishing; sometimes it seems to me the debate throws small presses completely out the window.

Small presses are a great alternative if the fortress of the 'big guys' seems too impenetrable, but the wilderness of self-publishing too intractable. You won't make bajillions on your novel, but if you land a contract with a quality press you'll have professional support in all aspects of editing, publishing and marketing. And for me as an author, that has been really important.

It's not that I'm not interested in contributing to the marketing of my own work -- I am interested, and I do market. But having the support of a full press during the publication process frees up a lot of time for, say, writing that next novel. And unlike self-publishing, a small press gives you a 'legitimate publication credit' that you can point to with some pride should you ever decide to query the "big guys" later on down the line.

Really enjoyed reading this debate. Thanks for a great post.
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:11 am (UTC)
A lot of it's got to do with odds. Lots of different kinds of odds.

Oh, and marketability, with a broad brush as opposed to a narrow niche.

And validation.
Feb. 16th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
we all know the real enemies are the evil, greedy, clueless editors and agents. The people who are only in it for the money


Right. Because editors have such huge salaries compared to what they could be making in other industries. According to Simply Hired, where I just looked it up, the average salary for an editor in the U.S. is $44k; a literary agent's average is only at $50k. Considering you're looking at a high concentration of these jobs in New York, where the pay has to be high enough to balance out the cost of living... well, these folks just aren't making that much. Money grubbing indeed.
Feb. 16th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC)
What is it with people always wanting to ruin a perfectly good rant with their facts and their logic???
(no subject) - alanajoli - Feb. 16th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 16th, 2011 11:02 pm (UTC)
The thing I find a bit off about this piece is the assumption that people who self publish don't want things like good editing and good covers. The idea that these things aren't available unless you go to "name" publisher is absolute bosh(Some of the covers I have seen on big name publisher releases certainly call into question the idea of good covers and don't get me started on editing). People like JA Konrath go to great lengths to tell their readers that good editing and covers are vital to an independent e-author's success.

Sure the people in the industry are in it both for love AND profit(nothing wrong with that) but to assume anyone who castigates the industry is doing so from sour grapes, predatory reasons, or because they hate big business is to my mind very wrong headed(and while you do have the "I am talking about everyone but you" caveat paragraph at the end it doesn't ameliorate the rest of the post in my eyes).
Feb. 16th, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC)
Oops, sorry, the above is me.
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Feb. 18th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
...the evil, greedy, clueless editors...

I will tell everyone who will listen that Editor Melissa at Carina Press is the one of the best things to happen to me as writer in my entire career. I've learned more about the nuts and bolts of creating readable fiction that sells while working with her on my novella and then a novel than I ever learned from all the writing books I've read and workshops I taken part in combined.
Feb. 25th, 2011 12:12 am (UTC)
I'm coming in late but...
I wrote a blog post on this very topic a few weeks ago. I'm neither pro nor anti self-publishing and I was actually paralyzed for a bit when I became obsessed with the drama. I couldn't stop thinking about what *I* was going to do and how the heck does one decide? So much so that I stopped writing and scoured the internet in some kind of irrational panic that I can't explain for almost 2 weeks. I finally let it go because really, whichever one I do eventually pursue, I'm not getting there without a finished product.

There are pros and cons of both and I think that as an unpublished author, there's something rather daunting about such a hyped up debate that makes you feel like you absolutely must pick a side and pick it *right now* or you'll forever be doomed. And God forbid you pick the *wrong* side! Also quite irrational, I know.

But the debate still rages on and I understand exactly what you mean. I likened it to multi-level marketing here: http://bit.ly/eeNFV6.

To be honest, the whole thing has actually made me glad I'm not finished. The instability of the physical book market and the unknown universe of the digital world is not one I'm itching to jump into. I'm glad I need to finish my wip before I delve into this - hopefully by the time I'm ready there'll be more concrete information in both worlds. Not likely, but one can hope. If I don't, I'll end up paralyzed again!

( 65 comments — Leave a comment )


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