Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Change is never easy...but usually a good thing

Sorry, I've been so "quiet" lately guys. There have been several contributing factors: Extended tax return due on Oct 15. Trips to New York for Self Publishing Business Expo and to San Diego for World Fantasy Convention. End of the quarter and having to get royalty statements and checks out (some VERY nice income coming to Ridan author's - yeah that makes me happy). And most importantly being heads down on trying to get a number of titles out for the X-mas season. But there is a topic that is flaming hot right now so I'll take just a few minutes to comment on it.

There have been a number of recent posts about authors and the choices they are making. In general it arises from the push/pull between those staying with traditional publishing and those who evangelize self-publishing. In particular there were these posts:

The best thing that happened to me while at WFC was a patio conversation with industry legends such as Stackpole and Jeter discussing the advent of ebooks and the changes occurring in the publishing business. It was not overlooked by anyone at WFC that while NONE of the programming covered either of these topics it seemed to be the subject of every hallway exchange or dinner conversation where authors gathered.

It was a surreal experience to be "the veteran," having been involved in indie publishing since 2007, (a lifetime in the compressed world of the fast moving changes) when surrounded famous authors who have sold millions of books, been on the New York Times Bestsellers list and are regarded as founders of movements (such as Jeter is to Steampunk). Both Stackpole and Jeter have put up some self-publishing titles, but my little unknowns (Nathan Lowell, Marshall Thomas, Leslie Ann Moore, Michael J. Sullivan) have pulled in impressive sales that (I would venture to guess) have eclipsed their sales. And my one peer of theirs, Joe Haldeman's Forever war sold 7,100 copies in October and as it is is ranked #1 and #2 on the Amazon bestseller lists I'll believe Jeter when he says that The Forever War is the poster child for "backlists done right".

As has happened in the past...and will happen again. The rhetoric is getting pretty heated. I actually like that. It shows passion, and those without passion are missing out on both the joy and the pain that strong emotions brings.

As frequent visitors to this site know...I'm a proponent of authors...all authors and helping them to choose the path that is right for them. Like Michael Stackpole, I want first and foremost for them to be educated on the choices and make informed decisions...and that's the beauty of the time we are living in now...there ARE CHOICES!!

Draconian publishing contracts are nothing new...and I'll even defend the publishers a bit here by saying they are not done in an Snidely Whiplash, evil-for-evil's sake. They are a result of a flawed system. The traditional publishing model mimics that of venture capital investing. The publishers pony up huge sums of cash (for advances, print runs), and have high overhead costs (large corporate offices, well paid professionals, warehousing fees, money set aside for returns) and must make additional investments for promotion (co-op fees, catalog printing, ARC distribution). In such an environment they impose "controls" to help ensure a profit and they must take a proportionally larger cut because most venture capital ventures fail so the "winners" have to "cover" the losers.

But change is coming...the free market will win out. Even those that are published traditionally will see better contracts because publishers will have to change in order to keep and retain top talent. Don't believe me? Well I can offer up my husband's own contract as living proof. He would never have signed the first contract we received, and because he was already making good money in self-publishing he had the freedom to walk away if it wasn't changed. This is an option that would not have existed for him 3 - 5 years ago...and guess was changed and as I said to many at the WFC convention - I can find no fault with how Michael has been treated by his big-six publisher.

Want another example? Look at all the people being signed by Amazon's new publishing companies: Thomas and Mercer, 47 North, Amazon Encore, Montlake, and on and on. Many who are going that route have their eyes wide open to the pluses and minuses of both paradigm (traditional and self) and by putting pen to paper are endorsing a "new model". I only wish that Amazon would be more transparent about their contracts - they have a very restrictive NDA and I don't see why there shouldn't be transparency. These must be more "author friendly" for the people who are signing them to do so.

So, I guess my message for today is the same I've said many times before. There has never been a better time than now to be an author. Choices abound...opportunities exist. Go out and grab hold of your future - you have more power now than you ever had when traditional publishing was the only game in town.


Kirsten Corby said...

Robin, you deserve your status as a veteran -- like I told you at Dragoncon, you should hev been ON some of those panels!

And thank you, also, for sharing your hard-won experience with us, the masses. :)

Moses Siregar III said...

I was sitting at that table, too. It was a really fun conversation, easily one of the best I had at the con.

We're going to publish my interview with Michael Stackpole about the controversy in episode 149 of Adventures In Scifi Publishing (podcast). We should be able to publish that this weekend.

Splitter's Blog said...

A very wise woman told me some very similar things recently.

I do not see where the animosity is coming from...except maybe fear of the unknown. There are opportunities opening up for authors that were previously non-existent. There are also opportunities opening up for publishers if they can roll with the punches and anticipate a few.

Why is this bad and why is it getting people heated? I would think authors, especially, would be giddy.


Andrew Jack said...

I saw the same thing happen years ago with mixed martial arts (it relates I promise).

When the UFC first happened they pitched a bunch of martial arts styles against each other to see who would win. It became very quickly clear that submission grappling arts, and in particular Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was beating the crap out of everyone else's martial arts styles.

The backlash was MASSIVE and immediate. I experienced some of it...I had spent years doing karate and suddenly here was this thing that seemed to totally invalidate all the time and effort I'd put into learning karate.

It took actually getting my ass kicked by a grappler, several times, before I could acknowledge that these Brazilian blokes might be on to a good thing. Once I'd learned that lesson, and was able to flow with the change that was roaring through the martial arts world, future changes (incorporating American collegiate wrestling etc) came far easier.

The same process is happening with writers. Some are going to get a huge shock, realize there's something missing from the system they're using and flow with the change.

Others will scream blue murder and try to cling to what they know, it's natural human instinct to try and protect the time you've already put in.

Those of us who have already had our butts kicked (or were open minded in the first place) can flow with the changes and the intractability of those that can't seems like insanity.

But these people aren;t insane (OK some are but not that many) they're just trying to protect the time and investment they've put into the old system. Yelling at them and calling them idiots (Joe Konrath I am looking at you) will only cause them to dig there toes in further.

It will take time, but the vast majority will come to see that like the best fighters, the best writers are going to be hybrids (like Michael J Sullivan for instance) who use all the available systems to their advantage.

Matt Iden said...

Thanks for the timely post, Robin. I just uploaded a short story series to Kindle today and am confident in doing so because of the good advice you (and Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler and othes) have been so generous with.

And I don't know about animosity, but perhaps some authors or would-be authors are anxious and upset with the advent of epublishing because it takes away the possibility of being feted and mothered by a Big Six publisher.

Now that much of the control is in the author's hands, it's going to take hard work and initiative to create and guide a writing career, no matter who you are. There may be many who are still of the mindset "all I'm supposed to do is write...can't someone else take care of the other stuff?".

Laura said...

Great post. I'm so happy that there are more choices and options for authors today. It IS a good time to be an author!

Shelia A. Huggins said...

I'm certain that was a pretty good conversation. I guess I just don't understand why there is this us versus them mentality. Change can be very hard when it should be seen as an opportunity. I welcome all opportunities.

Tim Dodge said...

I for one am thrilled that authors have new options today. While I have had no success to date with the traditional model, I can understand why some are resisting. It will take a long time for self-publishing to completely shake off the "vanity press" stereotype.

I just wrote a <a href=">blog post</a> about my internal debate on self-publishing, and I'm willing to bet that thousands of authors are having that same debate right now. Thanks for the timely post.

Unknown said...

Andrew Jack, your mma analogy is dead on, particularly because of the aspect of tradition.

About the Snidely Whiplash aspect: a lot of what appears to be evil practice can be explained with the strange beast that is the publishing business, but it doesn't explain away the complete lack of respect shown to writers by major publishers. I've really been enjoying Kristine Rusch's posts about that.

E. KaIser Writes said...

Great post! Thanks so much for being a postitive and balanced view! Reading all the other, very antagonistic, pieces out there gets me feeling like hiding. So much growling.