Two articles jumped out at me this week: David Gaughran’s blog post, “The Author Explotation Business,” about how traditional publishers are finding new ways to rip off writers, and a piece in Salon by Ted Heller, “The future is no fun: Self-publishing is the worst,” wherein he bemoans his lack of success with a self-published book. Heller’s article seems (to me) to answer the question raised by Gaughran’s post:
How can anybody be so dumb as to fall for that shit?
Here is what Heller says:
As I write these words, I am now in my seventh week of attempting to spread the word about “West of Babylon.” I have sent emails to many newspapers, from the Boston Globe down to the Miami Herald across to the San Francisco … well, to just about everywhere. I’ve sent emails to newspapers and magazines in England, too, and to websites and book blogs. In each email I send, I announce that “West of Babylon” will be available online only as of early May 2013. I attach the cover image and stellar reviews of my three novels. I do everything I possibly can in about four or five paragraphs to inspire interest in whomever the email is sent to.
In Traditional Publishing, the Chain of Happiness works like this:
- WRITER has to make the EDITOR happy
- EDITOR has to make higher-up editors, the marketing department and the accountants happy
- Higher-up editors have to make MARKETING happy
- The marketing department has to make REVIEWERS and the NEW YORK TIMES book editor happy
- The sales department has to make BOOK STORES happy
- Everybody has to make the PUBLISHER happy
- The PUBLISHER has to make the STOCKHOLDERS and BOARD OF DIRECTORS happy
Contrast that with the indie’s Chain of Happiness:
- WRITER has to make the READERS happy
Notice what’s missing in the first chain of happiness? If you said “readers,” give yourself a gold star. If that list gives you some hints about why traditional publishing is in such disarray and why some self-publishers are succeeding beyond almost everybody’s expectations, give yourself another star.
And yes, I know there are many traditionally published books that make readers very happy. The point I’m making is about focus and priorities. With most publishers, and especially the Big Publishing Houses, reader happiness is a side effect, not a priority.
The author of the Salon piece is locked in the Trad-pub mode of thinking. What he doesn’t realize is this: Reviewers don’t buy books. Sure, reviews can help get the word out about a book, but I’ve yet to see any evidence that reviews SELL books. By focusing all his energy and attention on people who don’t matter, the author is neglecting the only people who do: Readers.
Which takes us back to David Gaughran’s blog post. Go read it. I’ll wait. Are you back? Did you follow all the links? Got a queasy feeling in your guts now?
Did this passage jump out at you the way it did me?
And it’s much harder to tell the scammers from the legitimate organizations when they are owned by the same people.
Think about the traditional publisher’s chain of happiness. Who does a publisher have to make happy? Stockholders and the board of directors. What makes them happy? Money. Not that there is anything wrong with making money. Money is good in that it can be exchanged for coffee and cookies. So I have no objection to money. When your sole concern is making money and making more money and the desperation creeps in that you need to make even more money (come on, even I have limits to how much coffee and how many cookies I can consume!) then strange and ugly things happen. Such as once legitimate publishers ripping off writers with overpriced or useless “services.”
Self-publishing “services” are in the business of taking as much money as possible from you. That’s it. That is their sole reason for being. They will do anything, say anything, play into all your hopes and fears and dreams and desires in order to get you to pony up the cash.
What you, my friends, need to do is NEVER FORGET YOUR CHAIN OF HAPPINESS.
Before you sign any contract, or fork over a single dime, you have to ask yourself: How will this make my readers happy?
Don’t sit there moon-eyed and slack-jawed and force me to go all Gordon Ramsay on you. Come on, ya donuts! You’re a reader, aren’t you? What makes you happy?
- A good book
- Professionally presented
- At a reasonable price
That’s it. That’s your focus. That’s where all your energy (and your cash outlay) belongs. Writing the good book is entirely on you. Making sure it’s professionally edited, produced and packaged are fixed, one-time costs. Making it available (distributed) is easy through online sales channels; more challenging (but not impossible) in print. Determining a reasonable price for your work is a matter of market research.
There are no tricks or gimmicks or shortcuts. I won’t lie to you. Publishing is a tough business. Successful self-publishers are tough nuts who work their asses off. You can’t buy success. You have to earn it.
Let me tell you what’s really expensive in this business: Ignorance. With so many weasels out to entangle your rights and licenses for the life of the copyright (your life plus 70 years), that ignorance could cost you and your heirs for decades.
Learn the business. Learn about packaging and production. Learn about distribution. Learn about getting the word out and building a reader base. Learn to question big claims and bigger promises. Most importantly of all, learn to recognize anything that stands between you and making your readers happy. If it does, walk away.