Something Clickbaity About the Secret of Publishing Success

Publishing is a weird, weird game. You can’t swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting no less that 4,572,901 articles on How To Get Published, How To Get An Agent, How To Get a Book Deal and How To Attract Perverts By Swinging Dead Cats. The thing is, those articles are universally bullshit (except for the attracting perverts one. Those are pretty accurate). Because the only secret is there is no secret. There is skill, and there is luck, and there is timing, and all are involved in some measure that isn’t the same from one book to the next.

weirdBut, man, do people rail about how their way is the best way- and with good reason, if not good information. If you are an author, likely you want your book out there. And just as likely, you have a fair amount of skill and at least a working knowledge of language, but you probably aren’t an expert of publishing. So you start googling, which leads you down the rabbit hole mentioned in the previous paragraph.

It used to be fairly straightforward- You found and queried an agent, in turn to the big publishing houses, and then you got a book deal or you didn’t. The waters, to say the least, are muddied now. There are sill the big houses and their myriad imprints, there is self-publishing, and seemingly endless small presses in the middle.

And it’s that middle group that needs to be addressed. Before I go on, a small disclaimer- I am not stating anything dogmatically in this post. I self-published. That doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t go the traditional route, or even that I won’t at some point. Self-publishing is not for everyone- hell, a lot of days, it isn’t for me. Nor am I condemning anyone- anyone who doesn’t deserve it, anyway. But more on that in a second. My point is, none of this is meant as an attack on what you do. It is to bring attention to a problem- a big one- in publishing, which doesn’t get talked about very much.

That problem is ‘small presses’ which are either a) Vanity Presses or B) Completely useless. Thanks to Amazon and the like, publishing is easier than ever. Literally a few clicks, and your book is available to the world. This means anyone can do it, an that carries with it the painfully obvious fact that anyone can do it.

This also means that anyone can be a publishing company. Email me a word document, and I can ‘publish’ it for you. I’ll give you 50%. If the book sells for $3.99 on Amazon, I make a tidy 20% (Eighty cents, baby!) for doing very nearly nothing.

Because of that accessibility- either through design or ignorance- people start ‘publishing companies’, and boy do they make promises. Peruse a few small press websites, and you’ll find so many buzzwords, you’ll think you showed up at an SEO conference. But really read what they have to say, and you’ll find there are a lot of words that don’t actually say anything.

Not a great look for a book publisher.

Even worse, they do, you know, buy books. Which, on the surface, should be good. But when authors regularly receive little-to-no support in the areas of editing, design, distribution or reviews- you know, the things you give up a percentage to GET- what’s the point? If an author has to do everything themselves, why shouldn’t they just do it themselves?

What these individuals thought process is, I have no idea. But when this is a story I have heard from multiple people- people who are very good authors- that they signed a contract, signed over rights, and received nothing in return? Just… why?

Maybe it’s well-intentioned ignorance on the part of publishers. How hard can it be to sell ebooks? Frank can design covers, Susie can edit, and we’ll tweet about it and it will sell. This is also the mentality of 75% of self-publishers. So they make grand promises, and have no clue what is actually involved. And so the author loses rights, sales and time.

Maybe it’s malicious, in which case it’s worse and less understandable. I don’t know why one would spend several thousand dollars to purchase rights and do worse than nothing with them, but the internet is full of examples of hate which I don’t understand, so, whatever.

In any case, if you’re an author, with a book to sell, seeking a book deal, let me tell you a secret word to use:

minion no

Say it with me


It’s a very powerful word. Because, plain and simple, you have the product. Without books to sell, a publishing company is Starbucks without coffee. There’s a lot of fancy marketing and pretty colors, but the product is what they need. And they need it.

So you can tell them no. Even if you really, really want to say yes, because no one else offered you a contract. Because this is your dream. Well- and I hate to sound like a motivational poster- your dream deserves better than sitting on someone else’s shelf.

And if you are inclined to say yes, get everything- everything– in writing. Because all that crap they promised you over the phone or over email? Doesn’t matter if it’s not in the contract. Make them put it in, and if they won’t, walk away. It might not feel this way, but they need you more than you need them.


Come Out Swinging

Because, why not? Let’s just put everyone who hates self-publishing in one corner, and everyone who hates traditional publishing in the other, and have them beat the everloving crap out of each other so they will all finally shut up and we can have some actual progress. In the middle will be Hugh Howey, so he gets double beat up.

We’ll sell tickets. It’ll be grand.

I get it, though. Everyone always wants their way to work, to be the best. And, hey, that’s great. Share what works (and more importantly, what doesn’t). But I think we’re losing focus on what this whole thing is about: getting books into reader’s hands. There is a lot more too it, but those are details. When we- ‘we’ as authors, ‘we’ as publishers, editors, et cetera, start pushing agendas instead of focusing on that goal, well, this crap happens. The machine stalls, and no real progress is made.

The Platonic ideal lies somewhere in the middle, I’m sure, but no one wants to talk about that, or give any ground. If someone comes to me and says “Hey, Dean, I’ll print, distribute, edit and market your book(s) for you and here’s fifty thousand dollars (or, hell, five. I’m easy) up front and then we’ll give you fifty percent”, guess what? I’m taking it. Because damn if that crap isn’t a lot of work I don’t really want to do.

And the alternative is paying someone, and that adds up fast (this is to say nothing of choosing who to hire). And if you do hire someone(s), guess what? You run a publishing company.

If you’re ‘traditionally’ published, read your damn contract. I have heard, first-hand, not some rumor, of publishing companies not holding up their end of the bargain. If you, the author, are having to do everything yourself, then do it yourself. But if not… why the hell would you?

If something works for you, by all means, share it and talk about it. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the only way.

Traditional v Self Publishing, fin

It’s hardly the last word on the subject, or the last word I will write here, even, but I have been wanting to put a bow on my two posts from last week, namely:

Why You Shouldn’t Self-Publish


Why You Should Self-Publish.

Each received about the treatment I expected- albeit they got more attention than I expected, but hey, I’ll take that all day long. What it boils down to, essentially, is do your homework and pick the path that works best for you. I didn’t really have a way of saying that in form long enough to justify an entire blog post on it, but I wanted to put a bow on this whole thing, but what is there to say, really?

Then I saw this- Penguin’s (Random House?) policy on electronic galleys for authors and, uh, damn. I tweeted that link, and received a reply I hadn’t expected, from friend o’ 43, Insatiable Booksluts:

treeWha wha whaaaaat? But, hey, they are kinda right. But who cares? I write books. When I sit down to weigh my publishing options- or at the bargaining table with a publisher, or my agent does- let me tell you how much right matters. What matters to me is what matters to them: The bottom line. And guess what, Mister Publisher, it’s your job to make sure my book gets into the hands of every single person possible, and if you’re not going to do that, much less facilitate it and then charge me for the trouble? Yeah. Exactly. Maybe you’re right, but I do. not. care. Ten years ago, you had a leg to stand on, but now if I have to do it myself, why shouldn’t I just do it myself?

This was illustrated to me the other day by an author I won’t name here. Suffice it to say, it is an author whose work I positively adore, and in recent months, we have become friends (which is completely surreal to me, talking shop with someone whose work I have devoured and has inspired me). In any case, they have a recent release via a hybrid publisher. Now, I bought this book day one, and it is- predictably- one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It had, by all appearances, a pretty good release, certainly better than, say, mine. Awesome, right? But now it’s been a bit and… no reviews. Not much chatter about it.

And then she asked me about how I got reviews. Me. Because ‘apparently, that’s something I’m going to have to track down myself’ (or words to that effect). This isn’t, actually, to take anything away from the publisher, or her, or anyone, really. But it is the reality of where we are in the publishing-stream of things. Publishers are doing less; royalties are rising. For every give, there is a take. They provide editors; you find reviewers. They provide cover art; you provide marketing. So on, and so forth. Is it good, or ill? This is a choose your own adventure book, kids. You get to decide.


Why You Should Self-Publish

In case you missed it yesterday (which my stats tell me you didn’t), I listed several reasons not to self-publish. The received the predicable response- I’m full of it, the ‘I sell a bunch of books’ (I never said you couldn’t, and to be fair, the person who said that knows what she’s about) and of course the ‘you-might-learn-something’ one.

Let your hate flow through you. Give in to the dark side.

In any case, here are the reasons I decided to self-publish. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

Money. I mean, really? This is what it boils down to, when you’re selling a book and not writing one. 70% is a better cut than it is ever possible to get through any traditional publisher. Even if you sell less books, you can still make more money. Pretty good motivation.

Control. It is a chore, as I said yesterday. You have to decide on editors, artists, etc. But, on the flip side, you get to- you don’t get handed a cover, or an editor that you just have to live with.

Time. If you go the traditional route, you’re submitting to agents for a minimum of six months, who in turn submit to publishing houses for at least that long, who in turn go through the whole editing process, cover art, etc, which is (at least) months. Oh, and if your book is not the next 50 Shade of Grey, in that it’s actually an intelligent piece of literature, or doesn’t feature cookie cutter heroes & villains, good luck even getting it published (how’s that, people who said I sounded bitter about self-publishing?). If you self-publish, your book will be out months- if not years- sooner.

Accountability. It’s no secret that there is a lot of crap out there, and I’ve said before that it’s unfair to ask readers to read through slush. But with self-publishing, you are directly accountable to readers- and readers only. They like your book, or they don’t. It’s not governed by what’s hot, if it has White People Kissing on the cover, or whatever safe standard trainload publishers hold writers too. The reader gets to decide if it is good or not.

And there is this… (via Bo’s Cafe Life)

You Define Success. You want to be a best seller? Work your ass off, and you can get there. You want to have a book out and don’t care how many copies you sell or how much you make? Bam, done. You just want to share your work with the world? There you go. Traditional publishing isn’t going to do anything for you unless it can make money off you. That’s not wrong, it’s just the way business works. But if you self-publish, you get to decide what your goals are, and work towards them- no matter what they are.


Monday Morning Randomness

Some linkage and other fun stuff to get your week started:

I told sj of Book Snobbery that I kinda fought the urge to link to every post she writes, because her blog is a must read, but here are two posts you need to read:

Don’t tell her what to read.

She shares my hatred for Peter Jackson’s LotR/Hobbit. Seriously, every time I hear about that damn movie or some stupid gif pops up in my Tumblr, I die inside.

I have a new Adventure in Indie Publishing up over at Nerds Feather, which is primarily occupied with a review of Planks by SC Harrison.

It is mostly occupied with that review because I don’t feel like wading into the sh*tstorm that my good friend E. Cathrine Tobler started with her resignation from the SFWA due to their wildly inappropriate columns and sexist comments. I think it’s been debated enough in enough media outlets that anything I add would be of little consequence. However, I will say, if someone feels discriminated against and has the gumption to stand up and you send them hate mail… You suck. Seriously.

We should instead focus on the fact that she has a new book coming out next month, Rings of Anubis: Gold & Glass, and I hear it’s really good.

sj has to read it twice.

In the self-promotion theater, I am humbled, grateful and a little overwhelmed by how positive reviews have been for 3024AD. Many thanks to all of you who review and recommend it. As a huge book geek, it’s a great feeling to know I provided people with a book they enjoyed, if that makes sense.

Couple o’ Updates from things that happened today:

If you are running a Kickstarter, have a plan. Actually, have several plans- if it is funded, if it is not, if it is overfunded and if it is way overfunded. Don’t be this guy.

And then this load, from Good Ereader (via The Passive Voice), saying that “self-published authors are ruining literature”. OK *deep breath* *rubs temples*. First off, no, they are not. Literature is just fine, thank you very much. What you are saying they are ruining is a distribution platform and online bookstores. And to that, I agree. I have harped on this for a long time (see: Writing as a Business, Quality Control). Self-published authors should not just publish an unpolished, unfinished piece of crap.

But guess what? They’re going to.

But if you want to speak to literature, I counter that the mass-produced garbage of Stephanie Meyer and EL James do far more to ruin literature than someone living out the dream of finishing a novel and taking advantage of the ease of the options that are out there.

And if you don’t want to read any of the piles of crap crowding the Kindle store? If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and sh*ts like a duck, guess what? It probably is. Also: Many of these self-published people who aren’t putting in time and effort to have their work edited or have solid cover art designed aren’t putting in the time and effort to put it on, say, Kobo. Just sayin’.

On final point: this is a hole traditional publishing has put themselves and us, as readers, in, but offering less and less money to the authors, not supporting them and being completely risk-averse. So, the fault is hardly in the stars, my friend.

Small & Hybrid Press- Author Edition

Today over at Nerds Feather, I talk about the growing relevancy of small, hybrid presses that focus on ebooks and have less distribution of hardcopies as their lager cousins, but make up for it with larger royalties.

A hot topic lately has been advances, should they be offered, how much, etc. I don’t have a firm stance on this- there are a lot of factors that can enter into it- but I think some advance should at least be offered. The SFWA minimum is $2,000 and if a press doesn’t have $2,000 to buy the product they plan to produce, how, exactly, are they going to fund producing it? It also shouldn’t take long to earn back- even at the lowest price on Amazon, you only have to move about 1,000 copies. If they can’t do that, well, not much of a publisher, are they?

But there are many other things to be wary of, with publishers both small and large. I can’t really top Chuck Wendig’s list o’ things to beware of, so I won’t try. One other point I want to hammer on, though, is $7 on that list: Anyone who asks for money. Things cost money, obviously. But that’s why they exist– so you don’t have to scrimp and save or sell your house or kids or resort to loan sharks in order to cover editing, cover art, formatting, printing, distribution, advertising, blah blah blah. If they are asking you to cover any of those costs, go do it yourself. There are great editors and artists out there. You can reach a decent readership with minimal investment with Facebook and Goodreads ads alone. That money is much better spent- and you will have control over how it’s used. If they are asking you to pay for the privilege of publishing your book, they’re full of crap.