Did someone say "Lunch?"
Victoria Strauss, blogging for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America on Writer Beware
, asked the other day: “Why the Hate?” from the independent publishing community about Penguin’s Book Country.
I think “hate” might be far too strong a word to describe the reactions of the bloggers I’ve read on the subject of Penguin’s recently launched vanity press endeavor. But I think it would be fair to say that among the reactions is a fair bit of outrage.
As Jim Kukral points out on No Publisher Required
, vanity publishers are nothing new, but when the second-largest publishing conglomerate in the world jumps into the vanity business: “We’re angry at legacy publishers for letting us blaze the trail they said was idiotic to follow...”
So first they say we’re making a biiiiiig mistake, then they invite inexperienced writers to pay them money to do the same. Yeah, I get why that might piss a few people off.No Worse Than the Worst? Worse.
Ms. Strauss thinks the “(shudder) "indie," ” community is missing the point, that Penguin’s “self-publishing” scheme is no worse than any of the others. Perhaps it’s not worse than some, but even she agrees that doesn’t make it a good thing for writers.
In one way it certainly is
worse than the others: David Shanks, Penguin Group USA’s CEO, has publicly stated that they consider Book Country their “farm team.” “The lifeblood of any publisher is finding new talent,” he says in an interview with Rich Fahle at this year’s Digital Book World. “...we’ll start to look seriously at those people and say ‘Aha! here’s our new crop of potential best-selling authors.’”Don't Be The Fish!
This is going to be an irresistible lure for a lot of writers. But “lure” is the word to keep in mind. Writers, you’re the fish here
. They're taking your money AND a fat royalty to do what you could quickly learn to do yourself, or hire done for a reasonable flat fee. Listen up!
Publishers have always had a system in place for finding new talent. It's called submissions. True, they pick a very few of the many submissions they receive for the privilege of publication, they offer really terrible terms and crap royalties, and the author abandons considerable control for very little of the take, which is why there's an independent publishing community in the first place. Penguin Plans to Be the Penguin
But what if a publisher could bypass agents, who are getting a lot of bad press lately, and get people to submit directly to them and actually pay
for the privelege of bucking roughly the same odds—roughly .02% according to one editor's recent estimate—of being picked up for publication. Now they've turned what was formerly a free service into a paying proposition. That's a smart publisher being the penguin to your hapless fish.
Yes, the reactions from the independent publishing community to Penguin’s vanity publishing scheme have been overwhelmingly negative. I believe that’s because as a group independent authors are passionate about educating other authors. Penguin only seems passionate about separating them from their money.The Indiepub Community on Penguins and FishJoe Konrath
lays out a clear explanation of what writers get—and don't get—for their money.
Lee Goldberg takes you on a tour of “Sucker Country
David Gaughran reports: Penguin Launches Rip-Off Self-Publishing “Service”
J W Manus tells you How Penguin Book Country is Running the Con Game
Jim Kukral, on No Publisher Required, is Thinking Longer About Penguin
David Burton at Random Musings shows how you can Forget Penguin’s Book Country – Do It Yourself
Kevin O. McLaughlin at Swords & Starflight asks Dear Penguin and Book Country: How stupid do you think writers are?
And as always, lots and lots of good analysis and opinions on the subject on The Passive Voice
here (Penguin Launches a Self-Publishing Service
) and here (Something Else Penguin Book Country Should be Ashamed Of
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."
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.