Begun, the publishing war has...
Who can resist quoting Yoda? OK, back to a more serious note. When Dean Wesley Smith commented a couple of months ago that he saw a war in publishing on the way, and sides already forming up, I really wasn't sure. I mean, I saw folks who didn't want to believe things were changing as fast as they were. And I saw a lot of folks still stuck in the "Writer's Digest" myths. But I sorta thought that people would gradually catch on, and writers would settle into a new world of putting their own stuff up as ebooks and print on demand books, and then selling some books to big publishers as a loss leader to get their marketing dollars behind a writer's name. My gut said that writers, being generally smart people, would do the smart thing.
Oh, was I ever wrong.
I'm convinced, now. Dean was right, is right.
A large chunk of writers are simply not happy with the changes taking place. They don't want to have to be responsible for their businesses. They want to basically be employees - write a book, get paid. Unfortunately, it's never really worked like that (despite myths to the contrary), and is less like that today than it's been in decades. But there's a big chunk of writers who don't want those changes. They want their agents taking care of the business stuff. They want the publisher marketing the book. They want to sit back, write, and not have to worry about anything else.
That mindset is doomed.
Dean just wrote a new article about how the latest agent scam is taking off and blossoming. More and more agencies are becoming publishers. They offer to take your book, get it ready to publish, publish the ebook, and split "net receipts" with you after expenses for the book are paid. Dean goes into why this is a horrible deal in a lot of detail here. Short form? Your $4.99 ebook would make you $3.50 a copy if you sell it yourself. With these agents, your $4.99 ebook earns you $1.75 a copy MINUS whatever their operating expenses are - *after* you've paid off whatever their production costs were on the book with those $1.75 chunks. So if they decide the "net receipt" is $2 on that $4.99 ebook ($3.50 minus $1.50 for their operating expenses, accounting dept, etc.), and they decide they spent $10,000 getting your book edited, formatted, and uploaded, you will need to sell 10,000 ebooks before you get a red cent from them. And after that you'd get $1 a book.
Not saying those are the numbers any specific agent gone publisher is using. But they could. "Net receipts" is an extremely vague term unless it is absolutely defined in the contract. Basically, these agent deals are very nearly the same thing as the scam subsidy presses out there - the ones who charge writers up front AND charge a percentage of income per book. The difference is, instead of charging up front and laying the fees out on the table, these agents are potentially able to obscure their fees so that a writer might have a very hard time figuring out what they're actually supposed to be making. Extremely dangerous.
Kris Rusch just wrote an article, too - talking about some of the other grabs going on. Agents not longer work for writers, she asserts. And that seems borne out by the flat-out dangerous and outrageous clauses showing up - not in publishing contracts, but in *agency* contracts! Clauses which give the agency a chunk of any future sale of the work, even if the agency is fired. Clauses that give an agency a chunk of any future sales in that world, or with those characters, and definitely any sequels. Even if the writer has since fired that agency.
It was bad enough that publishers were pulling those sorts of dangerous contract clauses. But now, agencies are as well.
I agree completely with her take on the subject.
- There is no longer any reason for a writer to have an agent. If you want someone to go over a contract, get an IP lawyer, it's cheaper and they're actually regulated by the government and actually educated about contract law.
- If a writer does not stand up for him or herself, nobody else is going to do it. It's up to us.
- Writers now have options. We can say NO to a contract and just publish the book ourselves. If the contract is bad, and the other side won't budge, say no.
But I'm not really sure that's sinking in. I spent part of last week over on a writer's forum that's well known and pretty well regarded. It's a very popular hang out and location to get advice. And they had forums for both self publishing and e-publishing, so I popped in. I quickly found myself embattled by a bunch of folks who were passionate in their resistance to the idea of self publishing, to a degree that was almost scary. Even the designated mods of the forums were pretty solid in their negative feedback about self publishing. It didn't take me too long to catch on. The self publishing forum was in place to collect posts about the subject, so a bunch of folks could trash the idea regularly enough that writers stopping by see that self publishing is clearly still a bad idea, and not a valid route for writers to follow. Maybe OK to dabble in, but not as a career route.
The forum isn't there for discussion so much as it's there for maintaining a steady flow of disinformation.
But that, and places like it, are some of the fields where the battle is being fought right now. Writers come in hearing about self publishing taking off, and looking for ways to make it work for them. If they happen across Dean's blog, or Kris's blog, or Joe Konrath's blog, they'll hear about how to make it work. If they go to some other places...they hear about how it's all hogwash and overblown and doomed to failure.
The level of Stockholm Syndrome in some of those places is pretty frightening.
But then, so is the alternative to a lot of folks. If self publishing really is now the *best* option for most writers, what does that mean? It means writers must take charge of finding an editor. It means writers must learn to format ebooks. It means writers must trust their work enough to put it up for public sales without the "validation" of sale to an NYC publisher. It means writers need to know good art from bad well enough to hire a good artist. It means writers need to learn some basic accounting. It means writers need to market their books (arguably, that was already true since publishers were no longer doing much marketing on most books, but the myth says otherwise).
It means writers need to step up and take charge of the business they are running.
Which scares the beejeezus out of a lot of writers.
But here's the thing: one way or another, it's pretty much over for those writers. The ones too scared, too badly grounded in old myths, too ill-informed about industry changes, and - dare I say it - too lazy to take charge of their business are done for. If the bad contracts don't kill their careers, simple contraction of the 'traditional' publishing industry will do it instead. Only writers willing to learn business are going to survive in the years ahead, via either trade publishers or self publishing. The option to have someone else 'take care of it' for you is simply no longer valid anymore.
Stand up. Step up. Take charge. Make it happen for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.