Profiles in Publishing #1: Why On Earth Would I Want a Book Contract?


Profiles in Publishing is a continuing investigation into the brave new world of publishing at JS Media Blog by Judy Sandra.  PIP will be a series of articles and interviews about methods and movers, reporting on who is exploring, who is inhabiting and who is succeeding in the new publishing landscape.
————–
We live in a whole new publishing world. I released my independently published book The Metal Girl (JSM Books) last month. Naturally, I sent an announcement to a personal mailing list. The first sale that I know about is a new acquaintance who excitedly emailed me, “I just bought your book on Kindle!”

Sale #1 = Kindle. I was more stunned that the first sale was on a Kindle, than I was that there was a sale. What to think.

This post began as an email to a writer/publishing industry colleague about an article we both read concerning the current state of the publishing industry and included several observations about self-publishing. From the writer’s point of view, the argument rested on, what seemed to me, the not so accurate conclusion that the ultimate “prize” of self-publishing is to land a book contract by a traditional publishing house. Really?

To be fair, this may be the goal for some. But it’s not mine. Why on earth would I want to sign such a bad contract, based on every outdated business model there is and extremely exploitive and non-remunerative to the owner/holder of the intellectual property? The author.

One wonders how many of those who say they want a book contract have actually read one. I have. I spent 23 years living in New York City, working in and around the publishing/media/arts business and have a number of writer and traditionally published author friends.

Let’s leave celebrities and huge commercial blockbusters out of the mix. Publishers didn’t market or promote the average author much in the past and now they do less than ever. Secondly, I’m a literary author, and major publishers abandoned us go a long time ago.

I published my book myself. I am now going to use my own language, because I find the phrase “self-published” cumbersome at best and mis-directed. I am going to call it “independent publishing”, or, if you like, “indie publishing”. As I’m also an indie musician and have been working with independent filmmakers, this feels about right. I’m an indie.

I created JSM Books as an imprint, so I am the “publisher” and am using  Outskirts Press as my printer/distributor. They are a hybrid company and act like a real sales/distribution company. I have an ISBN number and  barcode, I’m listed in Books in Print, books are available to the trade through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and I’m POD on Amazon.com worldwide and Barnes & Noble.com. Through Outskirts I have the option to be represented in Frankfurt and other book fairs, if I want.

My great advantage, of course, is that I’m also a professional
brand strategist/marketer/promoter and had a client last year, who was the author of a non-fiction book about filmmaking. So I am probably one of the best people to promote my book that I know. I have the savvy of both old school and new media promotion.

About that experience, let me count the ways that my client’s major traditional publisher did not spend any money on marketing. The author had a huge platform to stand on, an enormous mailing list, was well known within her field, yet they would not give us any money to launch the book. Nada. And we asked. Not a penny, not a cupcake. They sent one large poster stuck to poster board. I set up the book signing/launch, begged the indie book store manager to order 50 books instead of the 25 she wanted to order, and we had an almost sellout event–sold 40 books in three hours.

I won’t say anything untoward about the in-house publicist who was assigned to the book, because I think she did a very good job, was great with the client and helpful and generous to me, but she had ten other books to promote and, again, no marketing budget. I got most of the high profile press for the client, and wrote all of her promotional materials. She paid for this out of her own pocket. Because of her established reputation, the good press (it’s an excellent book) and her speaking opportunities, which she created for herself, the book is now a bestseller in the film category on Amazon.com.

Fresh out of this experience, I had a miraculous encounter with my second  novel. You can read the whole account here, but the short version is that the original manuscript was discovered by a wonderful reader, who loved the book and found me on Facebook, which encouraged me to publish it myself. At this point, there are so many reasons why I don’t want a contract that it’s hard to categorize them but let me start with eight big reasons, that have to do with bookstores, readers and buying habits.

1. Bookstores don’t matter.
I hear the chorus of people defending indie bookstores now, and I love them too, but this is not where the bulk of book buying happens. It’s just a fact. People are going to bookstores less and less and buying online more and more. I don’t know why this news item got little play in the U.S. but fact is, Borders went out of business in the UK. Read The Guardian story here:

2. Critics don’t matter. Bloggers and readers do.
Step away from the Manhattan island. Outside of that little crowd of
incestuous literary criticism (come on, you know what I’m talking about), these days people care less and less about critics. In fact, many newspapers and publications have let go of their book review sections and book reviewers. Indeed, there was a comment on a Galleycat post the other day by a Goodreads reader that said, “I don’t read reviews. I only buy and read what my friends post on Goodreads”. Huh. So, I joined Goodreads and wrote to another reader/reviewer. This woman, a librarian in Illinois, is now reading and reviewing my book.

I have connected with a professional, more mainstream and new media kind of person who has also agreed to review my book. I was surfing the blogs and discovered her. I now follow her on Twitter. Bloggers do matter, a lot these days. Like the Goodreads member, readers seem more interested in not just professional bloggers but average book reading bloggers, their peers and such.

The Internet has democratized culture, for better or worse, and sometimes I think for much better. Certainly there are more voices with a global reach. Most people gather their information online, and to them–a website, is a website is a website.

3.  U.S. book publishers are local, and I’m connected to the world.
Ever hear of social networking, say, Facebook? My Facebook page, just from my professional acquaintances, is rather international, from South Africa to Ramallah to Brazil. My novel’s Facebook Fan Page, for some odd reason, has been attracting young people from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We live in a global culture now, not just an “American” culture. It was very fun to tell my UK Facebookers that the book is available on Amazon.co.uk.

4. Stop cutting down the trees.
POD, electronic formats and selective wholesaling of books is more ecological. The paper industry is a huge polluter. Does anyone NEED a hardback book?

5. Yes, they are reading on their mobiles and e-readers.
In spite of all the controversy, I’ve noticed that people who actually have a Kindle tend to like them. Nook is finally here, and the iPad will be bought. I have to tell you, my next door neighbor (a 40-year-old TV producer) is addicted to his iPhone and loves his Stanza, which lets him download books for free. He was annoyed when I said he would have to buy the e-version of my book. The Stanza has a very handy function of allowing you to enlarge the font size for easier reading. He gave me a demonstration, he went on for ten minutes.

6. The new companies, services and inventions are coming.
Do media people have amnesia? Do they think this or that device is the last one. There will be new companies, new inventions, new ways to do things. That’s life. Twitter didn’t exist 2 years ago, now it does, now I find it useful. The company I used for my book, Outskirts Press, is one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. They are a huge success, and that means more companies like them will pop up and/or others will evolve from them. There is an army of editorial freelancers–editors, copywriters, graphic designers. Popping up everywhere are new media book promoters, marketers, tools and so on. One of the reasons I’m writing this series is to discover what’s next. Life is change. This is a good thing.

7. The terms “vanity publishing” and “self-publishing” are so last century.
See above, even the term “self-publishing” is awkward and meaningless. Give it up already. Call it indie publishing and leave it at that. No one cares who published the book these days. When I tell people recently that “my book is out”. Their eyes light up; they’re so excited for me. “Great!” They say. “Well, I published it myself,” I say honestly enough. “Great, that’s even better!” No questions asked. They don’t care. “What’s it about?” is the only question. Is it good? Do I want to read it?  

8. Indie publishing is now a choice, not to be dismissed with snarky condescension.
I’m an indie musician, and no one snarks about that. I am connected to
Mediabistro in Los Angeles, and lately have been talking to writers about
their book projects. A lot of them are just going for the indie publishing
route. They’re professionals, they have a platform, and they don’t have to
wait for anyone to get their book out. Why should they?
Repeat, #7.

OK, that’s a start. There is more to this, but it begins to cross over
into the whole communications climate at this point. My main argument is that we communicate differently, we consume differently, and we have a different and more active relationship to culture. We live in a global culture and multi-platform artistic/cultural universe. The idea of a “book industry” is, in itself, rather dated.

Email to a friend

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

About these ads

14 responses to “Profiles in Publishing #1: Why On Earth Would I Want a Book Contract?

  1. I’ve read a book contract. I signed it. I don’t have to worry about whether the publisher is promoting the book, or how much money they’ll put into marketing, because I’ve already been paid, and it’s their problem now.

    I’m not a publisher, and I have no interest in becoming one. I’m a writer. I see my ‘indie’ writer friends online blogging and networking and twittering, working their asses off to promote themselves and their books, and I wonder where they find the time to write.

    Why on earth would I want to publish my own book, when someone else will do it for me?

    • Because they’ll pay you something like 9 or 10% royalties instead of 50-70% (or higher), because if someone doesn’t promote your book that advance is the last money you’ll make on it, because they, not you, control a lot of subsidiary things that can be done with your book, and because if you don’t work your ass off to promote your book you probably won’t sell enough to pay back your advance and the publisher won’t want anything else of yours.

      Whether you indie publish or get a contract with a publisher, the reality today is that you have to self-promote. Unless you’re a celebrity or already have several best-sellers under your belt, the publisher won’t do it for you.

      • Who’s paying 70%? Please tell me. Actually, with the kind of deal I have, I only collect 30% of the retail price from the paperback and I believe 70% from the Kindle version. That is because the digital Kindle version is a direct Amazon to me transaction, as an indie publisher. And that is deposited directly into my checking account. Distributors as still getting a big chunk of the pie, but, yes, it’s still 30% vs. the 9% or whatever is the maximum from the majors (which used to be around 15%)

      • Actually, I won’t make any royalties at all unless the publisher earns back the advance, and the advance was substantial, so it is in their interest to promote the book, which they are doing. If you’ve visited any large American book chains since last summer, you’ll have seen it on display.

        The editor loves my writing enough that she’s already expressed interest in whatever I write next, regardless of whether the first book sells. Maybe they’ll publish me again, maybe they won’t, but I’ve already made more money from it than I could have hoped, and I don’t care if I make any more. In fact I don’t much care if I’m published again. Maybe I’m different from other writers who are hoping to publish, but I have no desire to quit my day job and make writing my career.

        I don’t know what you mean by ‘subsidiary things,’ but no, the publisher does not have the right to do any more than publish the book in English-speaking countries.

        And no, I don’t have to lift a finger to promote my book, that’s the point. The ‘reality today’ is that there are still publishers who understand that the writer’s job is to write, and nothing more. There are damn few such publishers, to be sure, but for me, one is enough.

        I’m not disparaging people who publish and promote their own work. I’m just saying that I have no interest in doing it, and I don’t think any writer should let anyone tell them what they HAVE to do.

  2. Strange, your post shows up with a blue hue to it, what color is the main color on your site?

  3. Just killing some time on Stumbleupon and I found your article . Not typically what I prefer to read about, but it was definitely worth my time. Thanks.

  4. Then your remarks are all the more complimentary. Thank you. js

  5. Very interesting post indeed. Makes us all question why all of us with dreams of writing a book aren’t doing it. There are no barriers anymore, except for ourselves.

  6. Hi excellent blog yea nice work

  7. Good read … headline catchy … good points, some of which I have learned along the way as well (humility, grace, layoff the controversial stuff). Will share with my colleagues at work as we begin blogging from a corporate perspective. Thanks!

  8. Thanks so much for your interest. I do have an RSS feed on the HOME page. There is also an option to choose underneath the Comments box, where it says “Subscribe to this site by email.”

    I will be posting Profiles in Publishing #2 sometime tomorrow or thereafter.

  9. Good points…I would note that as someone who really doesn’t write on blogs much (in fact, this may be my first post), I don’t think the term “lurker” is very flattering to a non-posting reader. It’s not your fault in the least , but perhaps the blogosphere could come up with a better, non-creepy name for the 90% of us that enjoy reading the content .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s