Criminal? Dishonest? Morally Questionable?
So, should independent author-publishers have their own publishing imprints?
I wondered about this when I was first dippng my toes in the indie waters this time last year, so I asked a couple of experienced people I respected whether they thought it was necessary and beneficial, and they said absolutely yes. I created my publishing company, Ravenscourt Press
, and got on with the business of publishing some books. It did not then occur to me that in the minds of many people I was doing something wrong.
A discussion elsewhere in the indie community a while back brought up the question of whether or not indie publishers should form their own publishing imprint. The blog author was not especially in favor of it and asked for opinions. As the commenters began to chime in, the idea of creating a publishing entity for self-published books was labeled “not right”, “criminal”, “fake”, “duping the reader”, “dishonest”, “deception”, and “morally questionable” just in the first handful of comments. I think I may have been the first commenter to say I favored the idea:"I do put a publisher imprint on my books. I don’t personally perceive it as a deception simply because it’s me paying me what I earn [...] and I’m not certain where morals enter into the decision. Your mileage may, of course, vary. My books are a part of my business as an author, and my publisher name is the public-facing identity of that business."
It's clear that not everyone in the independent publishing community sees it my way. A couple people commented that they didn't see anything wrong with having a business name, but letting readers think you were a publisher
was another matter.Here are some quotes from dissenting opinions:"There’s just something not right—criminal, even—about making up a “business entity” for the sake of making one’s book look more professionally appealing. I’m sure real, actual presses out there take great pride in their work and for an indie author to just make one up is a little cheap and inconsiderate, I say. ...it’s just a matter of integrity and a respect for business ethics.""Self-published authors, who thinks they’re a small press because of a label, are silly.... I believe folks do imprints, thinking readers will miraculously buy their works because of it."
"It doesn't seem right to get ahead (if one even does) by essentially duping the reader. It’s dishonest.""Self-publishers pretending they’re presses make a bad name for legitimate small press operations that do have a selection process for choosing titles."
"...because it is deception. That’s not only morally questionable but it often backfires."
"I wouldn’t want to deceive the audience."
"As a writer, I could never feel comfortable doing something like this."
"I believe those who are saying they’re just creating a press for business purposes are choosing to ignore the consequences, intended or not, of putting that business name in the publisher box on the KDP. It implies to the reader that a book was published by a true press with an editor (not the author) who runs a submissions process and serves as a gatekeeper, even if not so stringent a one as one gets with the big presses."
"Readers who wouldn’t try self-published authors because they fear low standards may be tricked into trying your book."
After my comment, other author-publishers chimed in on the pro side: "There is nothing wrong with creating your own business whether it’s books, dresses, or gift items. A product is a product no matter what it’s form is. And I don’t understand this concept of morality that comes into it. You’re either in business or you’re not."
"I’m just not understanding why being up front about approaching selling books as a business (separate from the craft of writing them) would be perceived as a lie. Your readers want a good book. If you’re giving them that, how many of them do you suppose are really invested in whether or not you have a publishing identity separate from your name?""It’s a one-person press, sure, but a press nonetheless. And frankly, anyone who’s willing to do all the work themselves (often many of us around family and day job obligations) should be proud to call themselves both an indie and a press."
So Here's My Opinion:
I publish my books under an imprint,
and anyone who cares to do the research can pretty quickly discern that I'm the only author Ravenscourt Press
publishes. I make no attempt to hide it. I'm proud of the books I publish or I wouldn't be doing this.
I love my books, and I love my very, very small publishing company. I love making sure each new publication is as good as I can make it with the help of a good editor
, and I love finding and being found by readers. I did it New York’s way; it was thrilling to have all the trappings of literary legitimacy as we defined it then. We have new definitions now, and a new world of publishing opportunity to explore.
In the interest of full disclosure, there was a time when I would have argued against what I'm doing with my publishing business for pretty much the same reasons other people object to it now. But the game has changed, and self-publishing, as well as an opportunity writers have never had before in quite this way, is a business. What business would you launch without its own presence? What do you think?
Make sure the dream you dream is your own. And dream it with love, whatever you do.
Today I'd like to give a shout out to a few of my favorite blogs for the author/publisher. These selected bloggers are overwhelmingly in favor of independent publishing as an author strategy. It's cool if you don't agree, but if you read what these very savvy people have to say, you can disagree from an increasingly informed position.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch - How Traditional Publishers Are Making Money
“Is it becoming clear why profits are up at the traditional publishers? The profit they’re making is coming out of the pocket of the writers
Read the rest at The Business Rusch
.Joe Konrath - Book Country Fail
“If you want to self-publish, read and learn all you can about the process. Hire smart people with references to do the heavy lifiting (proofing, formatting, cover art). Then keep your rights and keep all the money. But don’t take my word for it. Arm yourself with information and figure it out for yourself.”Read the rest at The Newbie's Guide to Publishing.Dean Wesley Smith - The New World of Publishing: 95% of All Authors Will Never Indie Publish At World Fantasy I had a long talk with a publisher about digital publishing and midway through, he looked at me and asked, “Do you know how I’m still in business in ten years?”
“Nope,” I said.
He smiled, “I’m still in business because 97% of authors are not as aggressive about digital as you are.” Read the rest at deanwesleysmith.comThe Passive Voice - What Not to Overlook When Reviewing Your Book ContractPassive Guy
, that most excellent curator of news relating to “Writers, Writing, Publishing, Disruptive Innovation and the Universe” passes on contract wisdom from Lloyd J. Jassin at CopyLaw.com
“It gets in the way of the fun stuff.” “Attorneys cost money.” “Most books don’t earn back their advance.” These are three common (and potentially devastating) justifications that owners of publishing companies give for not paying attention to their boilerplate contacts. Similarly, many authors lack the courage that Oliver Twist exhibited when he rose from the table and said, “Please sir, I want some more.”Read the rest
. Keep up with the latest in the world of disruptive publishing innovation
at The Passive Voice
.Joel Friedlander (The Book Designer) - Looking Forward, Peering Back
“Now it’s really happening. Authors are walking away from $500,000 publishing contracts. Authors are selling so many self-published books they’ve become media celebrities. Self-published authors have sold millions of e-books in the Kindle store.
“Agents are now publishers. Publishers have discovered readers. Retailers are publishers, even though publishers seem to be in danger of obsolescence. Yet everyone wants to be a publisher. Their own publisher."
Read the rest at The Book Designer
I wasn't at the World Fantasy Convention this year, but from what I hear there was considerable debate about Michael A. Stackpole's use of the term "house slave" in blog posts to describe a type of mentality he observes in some writers who decry the trend towards author-centered publishing. Stackpole's first post to use this term, House Slaves Versus Spartacus
, published in the spring of this year, likened traditionally-published authors who defend the author-unfriendly environment of traditional publishing to the Roman house slaves whose interests lay closer to their masters' than to their fellow-slaves involved in the rebellion of 73-71 b.c.e. An Apt Analogy, or Trivializing?
There's been a lot of talk since then about Mr. Stackpole's use of the term "house slaves" trivializing the horrors of American slavery. In fact, there's been a lot more talk about that than about the actual points Mr. Stackpole makes in that post, and in subsequent ones (Swimming Lessons for House Slaves
, and Degrees of Slavery
), about the economic and contractual inequalities that have always been part of the publishing industry, and the notion that with the predominance of digital delivery and the move towards independent publishing, the balance of power has shifted to the authors.
In addition to Mr. Stackpole's writings, blog posts and comments by Dean Wesley Smith
, Kris Rusch
, Joe Konrath
, and Barry Eisler
, to name a few really smart people with their fingers on the pulse of publishing, have been trying to explain the inadvisability of throwing all your eggs into what they believe is a sinking basket. And they've been attracting no small amount of hostility from writers who are doing just that, and from others who insist on attacking Mr. Stackpole's choice of analogies, for instance, or Mr. Konrath's tone of voice, because they can't or won't debate the actual points they're making.On Not Being a Raging Fuck-Wad
Today, Tobias Buckell posted a journal entry taking Mike Stackpole to task for his choice of words. He titled it "Self publishing doesn't mean you have to be a raging fuck wad."
He's quite angry about the "house slave" language, and he does make an attempt to debate Mr. Stackpole's points, but he gets his facts wrong. He claims neither Konrath nor Eisler are independent authors: "They’ve both exchanged one corporate relationship for another. So anyone who champions them as self publishing masters immediately demonstrates a lack of perception."
...and..."...neither of them sell direct via websites with their own turnkey credit card systems like anyone actually *serious* about disintermediation..."
I'm not sure who died and put Mr. Buckell in charge of defining "*serious* about disintermediation," but a quick fact-check would have shown that both authors have traditional publishing deals for some of their books, other books they publish independently, and of course their famous contracts with Amazon, and that between them they sell dozens of books from their websites. "Want to read about changes in the field, want to read about the business?"
Mr. Buckell asks. "Start finding people who are utilizing all the options available."
Well, Mr. Buckell may not like these three authors, but they are pretty well known to utilize all the options available, and I'm amazed he's not aware of that, since it's a key point of his criticism. “I’m tired of hearing their vile denunciations of everyone and everything,"
he continues. "...I hear these types on the radio...they’re no different than Rush Limbaugh or anyone else.”
These don't strike me as useful or reasonable arguments in a post warning of the dangers of fuckwaddery. Vile denunciations? Everyone and everything? Rush Limbaugh or anyone else?
I'd be saying this in the comments on his blog, but he doesn't allow comments.In the Midst of Rage, Some Sage Advice
Mr. Buckell is, of course, within his rights to dislike the term "house slave," and to dislike Mssrs. Eisler, Konrath, and Stackpole and their opinions on anything whatsoever to whatever degree he desires. I'd never say otherwise. And he did offer me one piece of advice I intend to follow, so thanks, Mr. Buckell, for this: "Listen to people who don’t have to denigrate, shout, and insult others to make their point."
This past weekend I put my first two backlist short stories— The Bard Effect
and Hole in the Wall
—up on the Amazon Kindle store. I've put descriptions of each story on the Home page
. Both were originally published in major science fiction magazines some years back, and I'm happy to be able to present them to a new audience.
I had set a project deadline of 21 October, but due to the intricacies of ebook formatting and conversion, about which more below, I frequently despaired of making it. As it happens, the first book was for sale on that date, the second didn't pop up until sometime after midnight. I wasn't awake to see it.Congratulations! It's a Book!
In the days when my publishing fate was tied in with traditional publishing, I have gazed lovingly at cover flats from my publisher, and held those first precious advance copies of my novels, savoring the the solidity—the sheer physicality—of the finished product. I won't lie: it was pretty glorious. But it was not, I think, more glorious than seeing a book I'd created from words to formatting to cover to sales copy populate its own Amazon page. I'd gone from contemplating becoming an independent publisher about seven months before, to seeing my first two projects available for sale.Excuse Me, I Really Have to Scream Now
Somewhere between those two points there were months of re-keying published stories from old magazine copies, converting to hand-built XHTML, and figuring out what Kindle's Mobi format really wanted from me, and how I could induce it to create a good-looking ebook. Having some experience with HTML and CSS helped considerably, but I could have picked up what little I needed fairly quickly, if I had not.
I first found out that Using KindleGen,
I could instantly convert any well-formed HTML document to a reasonable-looking ebook , but reasonable-looking was not my goal. I wanted to get in and tinker under the hood a bit without being overwhelmed by a brick wall of unexplained technology. My answer was arrived at with some help from Guido Henkel
, who has written a series of wonderful tips for using CSS in Mobi documents using Calibre
, and from R. K. MacPherson
, who allowed me to benefit from the lessons he had learned by going there first and being generous with his time and help.
Even given all that, which provided an enormous head start, I probably built each book at least a couple of dozen times, finding different errors, or different things I wanted to try, each time I produced a converted file. How much space looks good between a heading and the following text? What's the best way to produce an unindented paragraph at the beginning of a chapter or scene? What's the best graphics format for a graphic title page? (Answer: low-compression .jpgs hold up best). And on and on.A Contribution from the Operatic Soprano
And finally, each book looked like I wanted it to look, was as free of errors and ugly spots as I could make it short of sainthood, and was ready to be presented to readers. So if you were going to shell out a buck for a book today, consider one of these, and let me know what you think of it. I'll be over in the corner figuring out how to format for Nook
I often joke about the beginning of my writing career: age nine, avid reader and cinema-goer (when your big sister works at a local movie house, you can see Them!
and It Came From Outer Space
for free, over and over and over), and budding author of books handwritten in pencil in a black and white composition book of the style I still carry to meetings. I’m pretty chuffed that anyone still makes these—they make me feel so writerly!
The books I wrote at age nine were nothing more or less than plagiarism, though of course I didn't know that word. If I loved a movie or a book enough, I’d write my own version of it in my notebook, complete with illustrations. I still enjoy the odd chuckle at that earnest little girl who wrote so awfully, but what set her apart from most kids her age was that she wrote anything at all
. My schools did not, that I recall, put particular emphasis on storytelling as a skill. I don’t recall ever being tasked with writing a story; I did it because I had to, and because I loved the feeling of the pencil on the pulp paper, and words emerging from the end of it. Later I switched to a pen, but the magic was undiminished.
A number of experts on this and that—Daniel Levitin (This is Your Brain on Music
) and Malcom Gladwell (Outliers
) being only two—have written that something around ten thousand hours of practicing one’s craft are necessary for mastery. This presupposes mastery as a destination, but my objections to that are for another day.
Certainly the Beatles’ hundreds of eight-hour sets in Hamburg made them one of the tightest bands around, and picking up tennis rackets at age three was as good a way to produce a Venus and Serena Williams as any I can imagine.
So there I was, at the beginning of a long and amazing road with a pencil and a comp book. It wasn’t long before people started noticing that I wrote, and somewhat more competently than many of my childhood peers. At the tender age of 13 I was encouraged by a school counselor to plan for obtaining a journalism scholarship that had recently been established at a nearby university. I replied politely that I would, but inside I was digging in my heels at teachers and counselors planning my future for me. Who were they to be telling me what I was going to be?
The heel-dragging continued until I was about thirty. One day I heard myself writing narrative inside my head, and decided that must mean I was a writer. In later years I discovered that humans have a species-wide affinity for narrative, and in fact everyone tells themselves stories, though many may not have conscious awareness of it. I’m glad I had no inkling of this on that brilliant afternoon when, having identified myself as a writer, I drove to the nearest library and borrowed some books on the subject, ready to begin a new adventure.
Before a year was out I had made my first two fiction sales and shredded reams of utter crap along the way. One particularly malodorous story was back in my mailbox with rejection note attached before it could plausibly have arrived on the editor’s desk, two thousand miles away. My theory about this is that really, really
bad stories can travel in time. Other lost works from that time were perhaps not quite time-travel bad, but never found a home. Eventually, I was able to sell most of what I wrote.
My point is, I suppose, that anything worth doing is worth doing over and over again, and getting better at.
The self-publishing option wasn’t a viable one in those days, so I wrote and sent out and received back and sent out again. The virtue in this, if there is one, is that I got better. That doesn’t mean that today’s new writers who may choose to publish works that have never received a rejection will not also get better; if they care about their craft, and work at it, they almost certainly will. Some of them will put me to shame with the quality of their writing and storytelling. They may not do so with their first attempts, but writing will eventually make a writer, not necessarily in ten thousand hours, but not in ten or a hundred, either.
If you’re new at the game--whatever that game may be, keep at it. If you’re an old hand with a long string of successes, KEEP AT IT.
Keep at it.
There's been a lot of talk recently about the level of bad feelings between people who embrace independent publishing and those who do not. Where there might be a middle ground of the "to publish my own stuff or not" discussion, there seem to be people saying they have nothing against it for you
, but a) they wouldn't stoop so low, b) they really like signing away their rights for a tiny percentage of cover price, or c) they might do it after they've paid their dues and become a "real" writer.Bare-knuckle Boys
Over on Terrible Minds
not long ago, Chuck Wendig and Joe Konrath (of A Newbie's Guide to Publishing
fame) got into a fine old punch-up over whether or not writers should be pursuing traditional publishing contracts. Chuck likes 'em (even says he likes doing work-for-hire) Joe doesn't. And Chuck didn't care for Joe's attitude. Yeah, Joe's famous for his attitude. To tell the truth, I kind of admire it. He can be blunt, but that's Joe, and I take it into account. I actually thought that for Joe he was on his best behavior over at Chuck's place, but he came out swinging, as he does, and many took exception to it.
I think both these guys are brilliant in their own ways, but I come down on Joe's side about the doom that came to legacy publishing. The publishing industry will continue, but I believe smart writers will avoid it until it removes its head from the exit orifice of its digestive system, and that goes triple for agents.
In fact, Joe Konrath is not
a wild-eyed, foam-spitting propagandist for self-publishing, but rather for doing what works to get readers and make a living from one's craft. He and Barry Eisler
have had some very clear-headed things to say
about authors making choices that work for them. It's just that when you run the numbers, traditional publishing doesn't come out on top in the works for me department. Not for Joe and Barry, and not for a whole lot of other writers, from best sellers to has-been midlist nobodies like me.But Why Would You...Dean Wesley Smith
, one of the leading proponents of author-centered publishing and the strongest voice I know calling out for staying away from agents until the pub industry dust (and ash) settles, is writing a new blog series asking "But why would you..." In the latest as of this post, he asks "But why would you not spend the time to learn indie publishing?"
If you're on the fence, read it. I burdened some poor guy with a reply longer than the original post about not putting his eggs in the trad pub basket, but I won't repeat it here, cos...long
. If you don't mind long, feel free to go find it
As for me, I'm hiking the learning curve to formatting books for e-book and paperback, and plan to offer a free short story here and on the 'net next week. Watch this space for "The Bard Effect," originally published in Amazing Stories
, back in the 90s when that publication existed.
I used to be as big an advocate as anyone for traditional publishing. Until recently, my advice to new writers was always to seek an agent as soon as they had something novel-length ready to shop, then let their agent sell it while they wrote the next one. Before the Revolution
As conventional wisdom went, it was not necessarily wrong in its framework: Life Before the Revolution. A good agent—one with his finger on the pulse of New York publishing—knew which editors were most likely to be interested in what he was flogging, whereas a writer might flounder around throwing darts at Writer’s Market and waste considerable time in what was already a glacially slow process. If your agent knew his business, he had regular meetings with editors, and could promote you and your book to them directly. Furthermore, agents negotiated publishing contracts, something most writers knew little about. The downside of that was that your agent represented many writers, and had necessarily to balance your needs against the needs of his agency as a whole. This was known, but like one's print runs and royalty structure, seldom discussed among writers.A Whole New WorldI'll get around to telling my publishing stories later, but meanwhile take a look around! It's been an eventful year in publishing. Borders is gone. No-one wanted to acquire their stock or their stores or their customer goodwill. Barnes & Noble remains, but will be carrying fewer books and more gifts, and also obtaining shorter leases to enable them to close individual stores more quickly. Independent bookstores are spitting up blood. Readers have largely gone over to one-click shopping, where ebooks now outsell any other kind of book. Print sales are so deep in the basement they're having daylight piped in. Traditional publishers are signing fewer new writers, and offering poorer deals to their old ones. Agents are wondering how to continue to do business. A few have come up with solutions that seem less than optimal for their clients; others watch and wait.
And what are writers doing? Well, a large number are trying to do the same thing they’ve always done in an industry that’s become unrecognizable in the past two years, and expecting the kind of results they’re not getting any more, and won’t get in the foreseeable future. Established bestselling writers—the top few percent of any publisher's stables—are probably fine for the time being, but should be considering their options. And finally, a smaller but more vocal number are seizing the means of production. Dr. Marx would be proud, I’m sure.
Okay, it’s not really that kind of revolution, but I don’t think it’s possible any longer to deny that it is a revolution. Only a couple of years ago, to publish a book without the offices of a “legitimate” publisher was a recipe for roasted fail with tasty fail sauce. Paying one’s “dues,” first to an agent, then to a print publisher (who would also demand e-rights), because publishers were the only way to get a book into the distribution channels, and agents were a faster and easier way to publishers. So what’s new? Everything. Since I started paying attention less than a year ago, the face of publishing is nearly unrecognizable from when I broke in. Oh, it has the same eyes, nose, and mouth it had in the early 90s when I was fanning the ink dry on my first novel contract, but they’re all in different places, kinda like something painted by Picasso on acid. First you have readers buying dedicated e-reading devices that get cheaper almost by the month, then proceeding to buy and read more books than they ever did before. Then you have Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords paying royalties of 70-85% (I earned about 4% on my paperback originals, and that hasn’t improved much), meaning writers don’t have to sell as many copies to realize a return on their investment in time and preparation.Author-Centered Publishing FTW And then you have writers. Writers taking a hand, taking a chance, taking charge of their own careers. Writers preparing their books for market or hiring the preparation done without surrendering a percentage for the life of the book. Writers deciding when, where, which formats, and how much. They put their books into the marketplace for readers to find, and despite the “tsunami of crap” arguments we’re still hearing, readers find the ones worth finding. Some will find their readership sooner than others, but their shelf life, once measured in months, weeks, or even hours in the case of airport sales, is…get ready for it…forever. That’s a long time compared to the approximately two years my first novel stayed in print. I don’t know about you, but I’m amazed and gratified at what’s happening now. The entire landscape has been rearranged and replanted, and I’m building a path for myself out of backlist stories and unsold novels, and I’ll see some of you out there in the hills. We’ll dish. Whether you’re a writer, a reader, both, or just curious about what happens when the people who make the content begin to exert control over it, come back and see me from time to time, and take a look at my favorite blogs over there on the right. Use the RSS button (Real Simple, like it says on the tin), or pop the URL into your Google Reader or other blog-reading gadget. Drop by Twitter or G+ or even Facebook and say hey. As time goes by, you'll even be able to buy my books.