I received a comment recently on my post that discussed authors who insist on keeping their e-book rights. My premise was that mainstream publishers want the physical book and e-book rights. If authors insist on keeping their e-book rights, it could result in a deal killer. The commenter wrote:
LOL! Self published author John Locke just sold his PRINT ONLY rights to Simon & Shulster (if he even gave them ‘those’ rights) to distribute his books to bookstores but he kept his digital rights! So, we self published authors have moved on from these worries already. But it was an interesting article and certainly something traditionally published authors might have to worry about. Hee hee.
For starters, good for him! I’m thrilled for the John Lockes of the world – and why wouldn’t I? He’s done something fantastic, and I celebrate his success. That he got a book deal from S&S is way cool.
What gives me pause is the commenter’s reaction – which is far from uncommon, sadly. I don’t understand the anger. I think this comment to my post is a bit snide – not unlike a child sticking his tongue out and wagging it at me while screaming, “Nyah, nyah, looooser!”
Ok, let me backtrack. I do understand the anger, but only in a cerebral sense. Truly, this isn’t an Us vs. You business, as replies like the one above may indicate. We don’t sit in our batcaves, twisting our chinhairs while squealing about destroying the hopes and dreams of yet anther writer. Without writers, we’d all be doing something else – and really, we LOVE writers.
So I’d like to talk about perspective in hopes that we can change the dialog about those who self pub and how that fits into the publishing business.
It’s no secret that more authors are rejected than accepted for publication. It’s always been that way. However, at no time have there been as many writers as there are today. With the advent of computers and laptops, the act of writing is a whole lot easier to do. So now anyone with a story can write on the train, lunch breaks, Starbucks, etc.
Digital printing also opened up a whole new world for do-it-yourself’ers, and for a few bucks anyone can produce a book.
With the plethora of armchair writers coming out of the woodwork, this increases publishers’ influx of queries – but it doesn’t necessarily mean an increase of marketable stories because our society has adopted the “I want it now!” mentality. With a larger population writing (and not learning how to write), the natural result is a higher percentage of rejections.
The higher percentages create a community of those who feel displaced and are angry about it – regardless of whether it’s justified.
Sadly, this has generated a higher number of people who misplace their anger.
Ok, I know I’ll probably catch some heat for saying that, but the majority of queries that editors see are from those whose literary grapes are very green. And what’s more distressing is the increased number of writers who don’t realize how the publishing industry works. This lack of understanding has fueled a healthy populace who bite back in some unprofessional ways.
It’s times like this that I distress over this feeling of entitlement, so I’m going to just be blunt: Just because you wrote something, do you believe you deserve a book deal?
The comment I have at the beginning of this post suggests that we publishers have been put on notice – that no one needs us anymore, we’re irrelevant, and we better start worrying.
For starters, publishers always worry, so no one needs to make the suggestion. Secondly, why are you angry at us? Yes, many of you have received rejections, and yes, sometimes it hasn’t always been fair. But whoever said life is fair? What good does it do me to lament some book getting a Library Journal review over ours? There are many “injustices” that we encounter, but rather than making me bitter and angry, I put my head down and take steps to overcome the problem.
It used to be that rejection was an indication that perhaps you didn’t have a marketable book and this would be a good time to hone your skills. Nowadays, rejection has become fuel for anger – not betterment – and authors are biting back with a “I’ll show you” mentality. The result is a lot of really bad books flooding the market.
I applaud anyone who decides to control their writing careers, and I truly hope they become successful. But the reality is that John Locke is a Cinderella story, and for every John Locke, there are thousands of nobodies who will never sell more than twenty-five books because they are either really bad, or they aren’t properly promoted and distributed.
Comments like the one above don’t authenticate our impending demise, but rather, it validates that there will always be success stories, no matter the uphill battle they face. And that’s the beauty of humanity – there will always be achievers for those who take the time to work very hard, learn their craft, and the business.
I’ve come to interpret this anger as jealousy. People are jealous because someone else got the book deal another’s expense. Publishing doesn’t work that way. A more accurate description is, “whoever writes the best manuscript and happens to query the right editor at the right time, wins.” Given that reality, it would be much more beneficial if angry authors considered why they continually receive rejections. Manuscripts are rejected for all kinds of reasons, but the main one is a lack of quality.
Just like any business, we have to have a quality product to sell in order to stay in business. If I continually put out crappy books, no one will buy them. This means I have to have a hand on the pulse of the marketplace and consider what types of subjects are selling, and then work very hard to publish those books.
Because the marketplace is such a fickle mistress, I’m constantly on my toes, and I’m always on the hunt for a great story. That means I wade through a lot that isn’t so great, which means I reject a lot.
How is this my fault? Yet, this is the attitude I’m shown – that publishers have some grand conspiracy that will prevent most authors “the chance that they deserve.”
Here’s some tough love: No one deserves anything. They have to earn it, and this means knowing how to write, and writing a story that publishers believe will sell well in the marketplace.
Is the system perfect? Of course not. What in life is perfect? Yet those who vent their spleens don’t afford us that very consideration.
For example, I specialize in memoir and biography. This means that many people experience something in their lives and decide to write about it. Many of these stories are too personal and won’t appeal to a wide audience, or it’s a subject that’s been written about many times – like divorce, midlife crisis, addiction, bipolar, Alzheimer’s.
When I reject these manuscripts, it’s because they are poorly written, or they aren’t unique, or the author lacks a platform, which will help with promotion. It’s about this time when I get the nastygrams about how I’m an elitist gasbag who won’t “take a chance.”
Eh…I take chances every day, as does every agent and publisher. What’s more telling is I receive rude comments from those who are very new to writing – not the experienced ones. This indicates that these new writers want what I have to offer without the benefit of working toward excellence. Quite frankly, I resent this, and I have the vanity presses to thank for this shift in attitude.
Vanity presses have long squealed about “giving authors the chance they deserve,” and “the mainstream publishers only publish established authors,” blah, blah, blah. All they’ve done is appeal to the lowest common denominator and offer a sense of entitlement – for a price, mind you.
You deserve this!
Well, no you don’t. And because of this unfortunate preemptive declaration, many writers have learned the hard way that quality really does usurp mediocrity Every. Single. Time.
Options – Room For All
There’s no secret that, given the advances with technology, publishing is in a state of change. Rather than lament what was, or try to predict what will be, what’s wrong with dealing with what is.
At no other time in publishing have there been so many options open to authors. I think it’s wonderful because there’s room for all and more chances for success. But just because these options exist doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, or that one will be successful at the expense of another. Or that one will be successful at all.
And that’s what the comment above hints at. That just because John Locke got a book deal, that we publishers have been put on notice about wanting the e-book rights. Everything is open for negotiation, so I think this comment is premature at predicting what will befall mainstream publishing.
Not every author is a John Locke…and this is an important point to drive home. All anyone sees is John’s end result – the book deal. But how many have delved into his process, his journey? Writers rarely just pop out from under a rock and become overnight successes. They’ve worked long hours to advance their skills and learn the tools that will enhance their chances of triumph.
Too often, I hear writers see a John Locke story and say, “Well, if he can do it, so can I. So long, mainstream publishing, you dirtballs.” Thing is, the John Locke stories are few and far between, so it’s dicey to discount the viability of mainstream publishers. Until everyone is achieving wild success as a self pubbed e-book author, then it’s is going remain exactly what it is: a hit or miss proposition.
It might be more helpful to alter your perspective and do what’s appropriate for you rather than putting publishing on notice. There’s room for all, and it shouldn’t be about Us vs. You. Really.