An open letter to a frightened man

This is in response to “Why Indie Authors Still Suck” on So You Think You’re An Author by someone who calls himself “anonnymouse13”.

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.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to An open letter to a frightened man

  1. I tried reading his article and couldn’t get by the insults. Didn’t make me want to continue. Something to add as a chicks in chainmail author is the saturation of that market. There are so many people writing the next Game of Thrones that the genre is too crowded for anything else. It has led to a game of contacts and reputation. This is where self-publishing comes in as states by one of his blog commenters. Successful indie authors can be picked up by agents and publishers. This is the author’s equivalent of open mic night and auditions. I was constantly rejected for being talented and unknown, which made no sense. So the industry has definitely brought this on themselves and some are seeing the advantage.

  2. Great article and all too true–right on. Interestingly, the use of foul language and attack on Indie alternatives simply confirms the arrogance and vulnerability of both the individual and his job. Perhaps he should jump ship or work to improve the ‘traditional’ instead of trashing what is increasingly becoming the only logical alternative.

  3. paws4puzzles says:

    I read the original article – it wasn’t just the obscenity and the anger that made me shake my head – it was also those annoying moving gifs like the kids use on Tumblr – hardly the way a “professional” sets up an article.
    Yes, there are crappy books both indie and self-published and yes good editing is vitally important, but basically I think this guy was trying to get himself some more hits on his blog. I refrained from reblogging his diatribe, but I will reblog your very well-thought out response.

  4. paws4puzzles says:

    Reblogged this on Paws4Thought and commented:
    This is a response to an article by an anonymous blogger who claimed to be a professional in a traditional publishing house. I don’t recommend the original article, but I do recommend this well-thought out response from indie author Misha Burnett.

  5. Green Embers says:

    I haven’t read the original article but I agree 100% with what you wrote and am not going to bother reading it.

  6. Vince Dickinson says:

    Traditional publishers do what they do because it is what they have always done. They do what brought them success in the past. This is why they are failing miserably. We aren’t in the past.

  7. Pingback: An open letter to a frightened man | mishaburnett | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  8. L.T. Kelly says:

    It’s a total shame that he didn’t construct his opinion a little better. That was my issue. He has some very valid points about editing and cover design, if the blog was better written could have helped indie authors instead of ‘getting their backs up’.
    One of the authors ‘fangirls’ personally attacked me on FB and called me ‘mentally challenged’. This is all quite shocking behaviour.
    I’m also tired of people assuming that if you’re an indie who writes a ‘vampire’ book, you’re trying to recreate ‘Twilight’! This is very narrow minded and I’l be writing a blog post on that soon. After all, thats like saying if you write a romance you’re trying to be like Joan Collins?
    Thanks for writing this piece. I’ll re-blog now.

  9. L.T. Kelly says:

    Reblogged this on Lucy's Lit Lovin' Blog and commented:
    Some sense after last nights events.

  10. gaele1 says:

    I read the original post – “it’s” (for I don’t know if it’s a he or a she – and the title of the blog is a giveaway that the author is panicked and half-reasoned) – and I won’t share it. Why give hits to someone who so obviously needs a hug, and a thesaurus. As a reviewer who actually started BY the grace of Indie Authors who were having a beastly time getting reviews – I have seen work that was in need of editing (copy and line) and mistakes in formatting, and derivative work. But – I’ve seen that in the traditional houses as well – when everyone is writing to a ‘trend”. I tell all the indies that I work with, and every guest post that I have written specifically addresses the need for quality editing, formatting and cover art. It’s sad that this particular blog writer seems to want to reinforce the ‘I read an indie book and WOW it didn’t suck” -instead of I read a book – and it was X Y and Z – and the author HAPPENS to be an indie author.

    Frankly – anonymouse is just the mouse that roared at the corner – with little changing since they looked so foolish in the attempt. And the limited vocabulary and overuse of images to ‘make the point’ were certainly geared to the grade-school level of argument and supporting data put forth.

    The funny part is that the “traditional” houses are publishing books by ‘reality tv celebs’ and disgraced television chefs to the detriment of taking a chance on some really talented and clever writers.

    I am, Indeed

  11. Great response! Thank you.

  12. sknicholls says:

    I read the article. My favorite part was your three line comment. So much said with so few words. The sign of a truly gifted author. I would like to read more of your work. Surprisingly, I discovered that I was already following this person…not that I receive regular posts, as I cull out email from people who don’t stay up on their blogs or post articles that I am offended by (it takes a lot to offend me) or people who are a nuisance. I don’t know which this fellow was. I am now unfollowing him. I sincerely appreciate the reblog so that I would know to do this; however, I will not reblog this for I do not wish to give him anymore attention.

  13. Megan says:

    In regards to traditionally published books and editing, I recently read a bio on Cleopatra. It was written by Pulitzer prize winning author Claudia Schiff, and published by Simon & Schuster. I learned quite a few new words in the book, including “bureacrat” and “asumptions”.

    Not to justify self-published books with poor editing – mine had problems before I had it fixed. But if the aforementioned book can have editing problems, any book can – even traditional ones.

  14. sknicholls says:

    I went back to unfollow this guy. He is obviously trolling. I saw that your comments were removed. i could not find them anywhere. Pity.

  15. LindaGHill says:

    Very interesting article. Thanks Misha!

  16. rachelhamm says:

    Reblogged this on I Picked Up a Pen One Day… and commented:
    The more I read about Independent Publishing, the happier I am I decided to go that route. Was I scared I would never get published the traditional way? Absolutely. But that didn’t make my decision for me. The fact that traditional publishing seems to be dying? That did.
    There was a blog post titled “Why Indie Authors Still Suck,” written by a man or woman who works in Trade Publishing. The post ranted about indie authors putting low quality work into the market, and that is me paraphrasing in the nicest way possible. In the post I’m re-blogging, an Indie Author eloquently and tastefully points out that traditional publishing is scared and as authors, we have every right to decide how we want to publish. As readers, we have every right to decide how we want to select and purchase books.

  17. Jack Harney says:

    I’m in the middle of reading “Cukoo’s Calling”, and have already run into three errors. If J.K. Rowling can’t demand better editing, who can? I’m not intending to excuse poor editing by indie publishers, but just making the point that the traditional route doesn’t guarantee perfection. My first book, “The Millstone Prophecy”, had the help of 15 beta readers and about 40 edits on my part, and still could have used more editing. I’ve learned a good deal since that first effort, and am applying that knowledge to my second book. However, TMP did get downloaded over 30,000 times, and won 4.1 stars out of 5 with 64 reviews. More than half of those downloads were for free, but I’ll take the success in any form at this point in my new writing career. What traditional publishers are going to have to accept is that many indie publishers will continue to learn and use strategies to produce books that will eventually be their equal in terms of an end product.

  18. Netta says:

    I find his diatribe against books like Twilight hysterically funny since it was traditionally published. Heh. I think you hit it right on the head when you said this is a frightened person. And rightfully so.

  19. ameliabishop says:

    Reblogged this on ameliabishop and commented:
    What a great response to a really offensive blog post. Just awesome. I admit I am a novice writer, and maybe I sometimes “suck”. But guess what? I don’t hurt anyone. Thank you mishaburnett for this sane and salient post.

  20. For me, there’s almost nothing as annoying as a person who litters their writing with unnecessary F-Bombs.They lose any credibility when they do that and I can hardly take them seriously.

  21. Patti Larsen says:

    This may have been mentioned, but aren’t we forced to take it at the blogger’s word (considering he or she is taking such an anonymous stand) this person even does, in fact, work for a traditional publishing house? Without any kind of proof to that truth, how can anyone be asked to take such a rant–civilized, uncivilized or otherwise–seriously? Not this indie. Speak your mind with your name attached or don’t waste my time.

    • Jack Harney says:

      Hey Patti,
      In my own small way, I’m trying to start a movement. On every post I make now, wherever I make it, I’m adding this. Just started two days ago.
      Postscript: If we truly believe in what we say, we should be brave enough to post comments with our full name, and as 21st Century people, adding our picture. The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew that if they were captured by the British, they would be hanged. It seems only fitting that when we speak out about anything worthwhile, we owe them the guts to continue that tradition of American courage.
      I see I needed to add my picture within this posting section…I’ll get them all set up completely over time. You and I both know that some of the worst of us human beings (racists, etc.) have now found a voice in the anonymity of the Internet. I think it’s up to the rest of us to challenge them, lead them to at least have the courage to identify themselves or experience the cowardice of not doing so.

  22. Great post! And thank for following my blog, Cold. I followed you back, but not just cause you followed me – because of this post!

  23. Pingback: A word to traditional publishers and the self-published | Doug Daniel's writing blog

  24. Pingback: Do Indie Authors Suck? | The parasite guy

  25. M T McGuire says:

    A class reply to what was a somewhat vituperative and unnecessarily catty original post… even if it did come from a mouse.

    Nice one.



  26. It’s an interesting article in some ways because the guy is so indignant. Why is he so hot and bothered? If indie authors are so bad and nobody wants to read them, then nobody will and it’s no skin off his nose (as a traditional publishing employee). And where does it say that you have to have a ‘right’ to be published? I think the audience is the ultimate decision-maker about what’s offered to read – they read what they like (sometimes what I’d consider to be very low quality, but that’s just me) and they leave what they don’t like. Indie authors in my opinion have to accept that verdict, as far as it goes. Catskinner’s Book should be a bestseller, in my opinion, and the reason it isn’t yet is about marketing, not quality. But we indie authors are not asking the publishers for anything, so this guy should just un-knot his knickers and take a deep breath!

  27. Pingback: self-defense (“indie” style) | ameliabishop

  28. robertashaw says:

    Ha! I love this! Great post and awesome counter argument. Thank you. And even better, Anonymous13 has been removed by WordPress. Great all round.

  29. Pingback: My Top 13 Posts Of 2013 | mishaburnett

  30. melissajanda says:

    Excellent post in defense of indie authors. Loved it.

  31. Pingback: Why I Will NOT Self-Publish My Novel | The parasite guy

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