Now, I won’t address the obscenity, profanity, and random personal attacks liberally sprinkled through this post. Seventh grade was a lot of years ago for me, and that stuff stopped either shocking or amusing me years ago.
Looking at the forty percent or so of the post that actually says something, he has written a rather passionate defense of traditional publishing. Passionate, yes, reasonable, not so much.
Basically, he has one good point to make. Books require editing. That happens to be quite true. It is true for Indie authors and it is true for traditionally published authors. Quite frankly, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree with that. So I’ll just admit the obvious and agree with him.
Books require editing.
However, from that fact he draws the completely erroneous assumption that because books require editing it therefore follows that authors must be published by traditional publishing houses or “they suck”.
In the first place, traditional publishing houses do not have a monopoly on editors. There are a great many excellent freelancers who work on a per-job basis for indie authors. Many of these freelancers have experience working at the traditional publishing houses and either left to pursue freelance careers or were let go in one of the innumerable restructurings that the publishing business seems to require.
In the second place, a freelance editor works for the author and does what the author wants done. A staff editor works for a publishing house, and does what the publishing house wants, usually for less money than a freelancer, and often under an enforced schedule that allows for little more than spellchecking. The days when a traditional publishing house could afford to give personalized attention to a new author are long gone.
The same goes for book designers and cover artists. Traditional publishing houses view these as assembly line functions–you say it’s science fiction? Here’s your picture of a rocket ship. Fantasy? Here’s your elf girl in a chain-mail bikini. Next!
Anonnymouse13’s main argument–that traditional publishing houses turn out a higher quality product than an independent author working with freelancers–is simply not supportable. And that’s his best argument.
He goes on to say that he believes that the majority of authors who choose to self-publish do so because they know that traditional publishers wouldn’t accept their books. He is probably right about that. I can only speak for myself, but I am sure that no traditional publishing house would be interested in Catskinner’s Book or Cannibal Hearts. I rather doubt that The Fauxpocalypse Project could find a home at a traditional publisher.
Why? Because I have books that don’t have either rocket ships or elf-girls in chain-mail bikinis. I have morally ambiguous characters, sexually ambiguous characters, I play games with the narrative structure, I don’t wrap up all the loose ends in a nice neat package. I like to make my readers think and question their own preconceptions. Worst of all, I write books that can’t be described as “Just Like The Last Bestseller We Sold You! (And The One Before That…)”
All of which scares traditional publishers. A big publishing house can’t afford to take chances. A book has to pay back the advance, pay back the overhead (including anonnymouse13’s salary and the rent on his office), and it has to do it fast. The deal that they have with brick&mortar bookstores is thirty days on the shelf and then rip off the cover and throw it away to make room for the next shipment.
Which is why traditional publishers won’t touch anything that isn’t just like what they know is going to sell. They can’t afford to wait. They can’t afford to promote anything except the known bestseller writers. For the rest of the list promotion is left to the author, on his or her own time and on his or her own dime. You’ve got thirty days to make back your advance, or you’re in the remainder bin at Big Lots.
A couple of grand advance, assembly line editing, an off-the-rack cover, a month on the shelves of a bookstore, spine out, in the corner, under a display of diet books, and all I have to do is give you all rights to my book forever? Gosh, I’d love to sign that contract, but I seem to have lost my pen. Maybe later.
The fact is that traditional publishers have been a monopoly for so long that they have forgotten how to be competitive. They used to be the only choice for authors and for book buyers, and they just don’t know how to handle a free market. I can list my e-books for $2.99 and my paperbacks for $9.99 and make more per copy than a traditional published author makes on an $11.99 e-book and a $24.99 trade paperback. I have total control over the editorial process, control over the cover and interior design, I get to decide how and when to promote my book.
And I own the rights.
As a reader, I have a choice between a traditionally published e-book for $11.99, that I know in advance is going to be just like what that publisher released last season and the season before it, or I can take a chance on a self-published work for $2.99 that has a decent chance of actually being an original work of fiction.
Anonnymouse13 is angry, and he’s angry because he’s frightened. He’s right to be. He works in an industry that is drying up and blowing away. He’s probably seen co-workers lose their jobs, and he’s no doubt aware that his could be gone in the next restructuring. So I am willing to forgive his crudity. Frightened people lash out.
The technology of book production has changed. It doesn’t take a Fifth Avenue address and a legion of receptionists to get a book to market any more. The big publishers are choking on their own overhead, and they don’t know how to cut it. I would urge anonnymouse13 and others in his position to make the jump to freelancing before it’s too late. It’s going to mean eating a lot of crow and giving up the nice office with a view of the park, but the work is there if you’re willing to look for it.
Traditional publishing houses made sense for a certain level of technology. When the technology changes, business has to change with it, or go under. Right now the prognosis for the Big Six (or Five, or Four, or however many there are this week) doesn’t look good. Instead of thinking of authors as sheep to be sheared, publishers have got to wake up to the fact that both authors and readers have more options now.
Otherwise you can join the telegram boys and lamplighters and milk men.