In my attempt at doing marketing research yesterday, I came across a comment on a blog (unfortunately I didn’t save the link) about self publishing. The commentor, whose only identity was his/her name, which indicated someone in the publishing industry, said not to use the terms “indie author” or “indie publishing” because (paraphrasing, since I didn’t copy it down) “it has a negative connotation in the business.”
Well. Guess that settles it, huh? Um, no.
Here’s the thing… I’m not the only one who has seen, and who predicts, tension between the traditional publishers and the new wave of authors foregoing them and going out on their own. It’s been happening for several years, and, as time goes by, it’s going to continue happening as the traditional publishers figure out if they are going to adapt or die. I don’t say that flippantly – companies like AT&T adapted and thrive. Companies like Circuit City didn’t. We don’t ride around on horses anymore, and I expect a good number of people lost their livelihood in the shift to cars (blacksmiths, feed providors, tack manufacturers, carriage houses). It’s just how things work in a free market economy. Sure, it’s sad to wave goodbye to Kodachrome film or to know there’s no more Saab dealers who can service my car. But companies that survive know they have to change and adapt, or they’ll follow suit.
Not that they don’t fight it… Hence the above mentioned comment. One tactic is always fear – fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of being wrong. So promoters of the old product (in this case publishing) try to scare a fairly easily scared group – artists. It’s hard enough to put yourself and your work out there for others to see and judge (and perhaps find lacking). Keep the rumor going that doing it yourself will make you even more of an outcast, and you can keep a lot of people from publishing and promoting their own work.
Not that you, the publisher, will swoop in and help them out. No, you’ll do what you’ve always done and let many a good, maybe even great, writer pass you by because their work doesn’t fit in a genre, or because they’re not already famous. You’ll continue to give the ones you do choose one sided contracts that make it virtually impossible for them to make a living writing. You will cite the economy and budget cuts and hand the reins of marketing over to introverted writers who know nothing about it, then complain because their books didn’t make back the investment. And then you’ll wonder why you have a bad reputation…
I am not against publishers, contrary to what the above paragraph my indicate. I’m against their traditional business practices, which have been heavily weighted in their favor. And I’m glad that technology has now caught up to the point where writers have an alternative, or a bargaining chip. I’ve always been an outside-the-box person anyway (homeschooling before it was “in,” traveling to Africa for my non-profit with no outside support, fashion, whatever…), so I don’t really care much about labels. But a lot of people do, and a lot of great writers may be afraid to self-publish for fear of tarnishing their future potential, while not ever being picked up by an agent or publisher because of the random and convoluted nature of the querying process.
What I hope, and situations like this contribute to that hope, is that the traditional publishers will adapt to the current market. They will figure out ways to help indie authors, change their contracts to allow for more ownership of the product by the author, perhaps divvy up the rights better so that the author has the right to pursue avenues that the publisher will never pursue but that might be open. John Locke has made a deal with Simon & Schuster to distribute his books. He’s still self-publishing them… but they’re getting them in bookstores. Now that’s creative, adaptive thinking. And it’s a win-win.
So really, it boils down to semantics, your belief in yourself, and your willingness to work hard. I saw but couldn’t click the link on a Twitter post yesterday, unfortunately, because the title was something like “should authors pay to publish”, and I wanted to see what it said (and Twitter is like Pinterest – you’d better click RIGHT THEN or you will never see it again!). My feeling is that, at least these days, being a writer is the same as any other small business owner (and I have a lot of experience as a small business owner!). You don’t start a business without putting in your own money, sweat, time and tears. What makes selling books any different? If you believe in your book(s), sell it like any other product. Don’t sit around and wait for money to come to you – go out and build your business. Work hard. Work smart. Learn by research, trial and error.
I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will. Marketing will be the hardest thing for this introvert… But I’m going to figure it out. And I’ll share it with you, if you promise to work hard and believe in yourself.