Gaining perspective – it’s not Us vs. You…really

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.

Percentages

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.

Anger/Entitlement

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.

Quality

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.

17 Responses to Gaining perspective – it’s not Us vs. You…really

  1. Amanda Adams says:

    I frequently muse about America’s sense of entitlement, and I say this as a reformed American who learned the hard way about feeling entitled to pregnancy and a healthy baby. No one is entitled to anything, and once people can accept that they can get to work on making their own success in the world.

    Anyway, the analogy that came to me while reading this was restaurants. So many people start restaurants every years and are either 1) good cooks with bad business sense 2) good business people with no food sensibilities or 3) not good at anything but think a restaurant is a good idea anyway. Why, why, why would anyone borrow all that money to start a business in a bad location, with no previous experience, etc. etc. etc.? Because it’s their dream? Might as well flush all that money down the toilet.

    Lot’s of people dream about being writers, but selling books is clearly a business. John Lock and Amanda Hocking were successful because they not only knew how to cook up good stories, they knew how to position and sell them strategically (good business sense), and worked their behind off to sell those books (hard work). It’s not just luck, though there is always some good fortune involved, that made them successful.

    When I was looking for an agent/publisher so many people who knew nothing at all about the book business (not that I knew tons but enough to know better) kept asking me why I didn’t just self-publish. My response was always that I had a full-time job already. People are so naive.

    I’ve got nothing against self-publishing, but it’s kind of like when I go up the road to Rocky Mountain National Park and see women in high heels with no drinking water or good sense on the trails. If you’re going on the hike, be prepared and realize it’s more work than glory.

  2. Vanessa Russell says:

    Excellent article; I always enjoy reading the publisher’s perspective so your blogs are very insightful (and funny!) and I read them readily. But this “Gaining Perspective” brought out some old frustrations. From a fiction writer’s perspective, traditional publishers are tough as a nut. Even with a big-name agent representing me a few years ago I couldn’t crack it, with rejection letters saying “not convinced this is a best seller”, “this may not be her break-out novel”, and “too mid-list for me”. One senior editor actually said “I’m tired of women’s suffrage” as if my book was written for her only! I got the sense that if the manuscript isn’t convincing enough to fiction editors to be on the NY Times Bestseller List, they aren’t personally interested, regardless of marketplace. As an unpublished writer, I would have gladly accepted “midlist”. I would love to read your take on this; I mean, after all, we all know that a number of NY Times Bestsellers, like the recent “The Help”, was rejected many times (62 for this one), before publication, hence, I think, why the overall complaint.

  3. Vanessa Russell says:

    And here’s the clincher. Because of the difficulty of breaking into the traditional publisher’s world (as described above), I decided the smaller town of e-books might be the way forward. But again, after requesting my entire manuscript, a newly established e-publisher came back recently with his response, and I paraphrase: too literary for e-books which tends to be fast-paced (I’m assuming like the murder mysteries now on his website). He recommended I go only to traditional publishers where my literary style would be more suited! Arghhh! I want what’s left of your beagle’s margarita.

  4. Vanessa, thanks so much for commenting because I think you put a universal voice on the overall frustration. However, there is a whole world of solid publishers that are in between the conglomerate NY publishers and a new e-book publisher…the solid and well-distributed independent publishers.

    I can’t say why your particular book received rejections – it could be any of the various things I talked about in my post – timing, an over-saturation of a particular subject or genre, not a big enough perceived audience, or a combination of all three. There are many great indie publishers who are publishing fiction – Sourcebooks comes to mind.

    You said, “One senior editor actually said “I’m tired of women’s suffrage” as if my book was written for her only!

    Well, in a way you did write your book for her – and any other editor who’s looking for books. She has her finger on the pulse of what readers are buying, so it’s always a good idea to listen to the feedback. Just like I may toss myself under a bus if I get another addiction book. I say that because I get them all the time, and it’s an impacted category. Women’s books have also been done a lot – so it’s smart to listen rather that getting frustrated.

    your comments have given me a good idea for a post…stay tuned.

  5. Sally Zigmond says:

    I just wrote a long comment, Lynn but it all vanished into cyberspace. Maybe it was trying to tell me something.

    Suffice to say, I agree with every word of this. I am so tired of the ‘you’re worth it’ and entitlement culture.

    Failure is what makes us strong. Don’t get angry–write better.

  6. Lev Raphael says:

    Yes, Lynn, publishing is a crap shoot for authors and publishers, and nobody can predict what will happen. It truly is like the stock market. We all do the best we can. Most important is, as you do, to keep a sense of humor and balance.

    As for the comment. Email and on-line commentary bring out the snide and even the abusive in far too many people who don’t think before they post or simply don’t care or actually feel free to be as insulting as possible because of lack of consequences. We all see this. You’ve got your blog, I have my blog at Huffington Post and once saw someone basically denigrate and mock every comment on one of my blogs and then go after me with invective I won’t quote.

    It’s the price of the conversation, sadly.

    As for entitlement, I grew up in New York, as did Lauren Bacall who said the thing she learned there was “Nobody owes ya a goddamned thing!” Words to live by.

  7. Steve says:

    You raise some good, and valid points regarding overentitlement, esp when discussing previously unpublished writers.

    But there’s also some other good, and valid, points about why the us vs. you mentality exists-that publishers bear some of the responsibility.

    An interesting blog post recently discussing this: http://accordingtohoyt.com/2011/08/31/he-beats-me-but-he%E2%80%99s-my-publisher/

  8. NinjaFingers says:

    Just because one person said it was too literary, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep pursuing the ebook front…although I’d pursue both. It’s one editor. They’re only human. I’m sure Lynn would quickly agree that subjectivity occurs in deciding which books to buy.

  9. Steve, thanks for the link…interesting article. The midlist authors have varied experiences, depending on genre. I’ve seen plenty midlisters enjoy far better treatment than what she described.

    But this is where independent commercial presses are enjoying great success. Those midlisters of the big guns are the #1 and #2 titles with the indie presses, and they enjoy excellent distribution. It’s not all as bleak as one may believe.

    Lev…one has to love Lauren Bacall.

  10. Vanessa Russell says:

    Very interesting discussion on According to Hoyt link that you provided, Steve. Thanks for sharing. And yes, Lynn, it does feel bleak at times but like any writer who doesn’t have to punch in or punch out but shows up at the keyboard anyway, “hope springs eternal”. That’s why I’m still reading the blogs to check the pulse, and yes, there’s still a heartbeat that keeps me pursuing, so you’re absolutely right, “NinjaFingers”.

  11. Frank Zubek says:

    Good article and yes, I am a writer who got tired of waiting and waiting for the 6 month cycle of rejection letters to arrive.
    (Though I do have a handful of published work to my credit thank you)

    On the one hand I figured I could see just how good I was by doing it myself and I did. (Sold over 100 copies within a year) And yet, on the other hand, it was pointed out to me that while my ideas were good- I could use an editor and so now my work is getting polished.

    I will return to the e-landscape soon.

    But face it- the infrastructure that is the foundation of paper publishing needs an upgrade to match the needs as well as the speed of today’s (world!) marketplace.

    And yes…. the paper VS digital war needs to meet at some sort of middle ground. But it’s the people at the top who need to do the changing not the struggling creators at the bottom. We’re just trying to survive down here. What we need is an updated and shared infrastructure that can handle both worlds because BOTH paper lovers and digital lovers LOVE to read. Our focus should be on supplying all of our customers with product from BOTH paper and digital. (We remember customers don’t we?)

    What we don’t need is all the in-fighting. That just mucks everything up.

  12. Hi Frank, thanks for posting. You wrote:
    But face it- the infrastructure that is the foundation of paper publishing needs an upgrade to match the needs as well as the speed of today’s (world!) marketplace.

    What do you recommend?

    the paper VS digital war needs to meet at some sort of middle ground.

    Again, what do you suggest?

    The frustrating thing is we are ALL trying to survive…it’s not just the authors. You state that we need an updated and shared infrastructure that can handle both worlds…we already have that when we do print and e-books.

    I agree that the in-fighting is fruitless because most people have no idea how the publishing industry works and how much money it takes to produce a single title where there’s no guarantee it’ll sell well.

    That’s why publishers are careful about the projects they choose. While I’m thrilled you’ve had sales on your ebook, 100 sales in a year is really dismal. This is what usually befalls the do-it-yourself author.

    It’s a double-edged sword, Frank. That you haven’t gotten that publishing deal you were hoping for isn’t an indication that something is broken within the industry, but more likely publishers didn’t feel your book would sell enough to make a profit.

  13. I’ve had one book published by a small press, and I’ve self-pubbed two more. I didn’t start out intending to self publish, but I saw a lot of rejections that said, basically, “We love your writing but we don’t know where this audience is.” So I decided to go out and find my audience, which I’m doing pretty well (at least according to my Kindle sales). I made sure my work was edited, and I hired a cover designer.
    That being said, I will probably still query publishers with my next novel. I actually find value in the rejections when a publisher/agent says it’s them not me. And maybe I’ll find that publisher who says, “We’ve got a market for that.”
    For me, the “us versus them” mentality is only when I listen to an agent or publisher quote the status quo and refuse to acknowlege the massive changes in the publishing industry. I actually read a guest blog by a publisher who admitted that they don’t expect most of their authors to make any money. It was said in such a condescending way I wanted to reach through the screen and punch him.
    We all need to keep looking for new ways for authors and publishers to be successful, while giving quality books to the readers.

  14. I actually read a guest blog by a publisher who admitted that they don’t expect most of their authors to make any money.

    WHAT?? I’d love to know who that publisher is. Anyone who goes into a project with that attitude is either insane or has a death wish. I’ve never heard such a ridiculous thing in my life.

    Publishing is a gamble, and we never know which books will take off and shoot for the moon – but, by golly, we plan for it and do everything we can to increase those odds.

    With everything that has been said in these wonderful comments, I will say that there are times when going DIY makes sense – like if you have a platform where you need books to sell at the back of the room, or you have a tough niche that isn’t attractive to most commercial publishers. But producing it is only half the battle. You have to make sure that your product is first rate and that you know how much time and money will be spent in targeting your intended readership.

  15. […] Lynn Price with some tough love on perspective and entitlement, as well as why e-rights can be a […]

  16. I’m not surprised anymore at comments like the one you quoted. It used to be that I would’ve been shocked, but after floating around Twitter and FB for a few years, I’ve read first hand some of the authors who think they’re entitled to a six figure deal and are pissed they haven’t gotten it. I mean, their work is beyond what everyone else is putting out there and therefore the rules don’t apply to them, right? Um, wrong.

    I’ve also read posts where an author of dubious quality slams their publisher and whines about the money they’re making. I always think, are you kidding me? You’re actually published and you have the audacity to publicly complain about it?. Give me the damn contract and you’ll see nothing but gratitude!

    What so many authors don’t get is that your work must be good, first and foremost. If you do take the self pubbed route, it’s like Gayle said, get an editor, polish, polish, polish. Once your words shine, get a good cover artist. Make your book as amazing as it can be, then you have to get out there and market it. Yep, you the author. This is true whether you’re self pubbed or with a traditional publisher. Your work isn’t over once you sign the contract.

    Instead of whining about what they aren’t getting, I’d like to see more authors supporting each other and putting out positive vibes to the publishing world. Post what is working with your publisher and how much you love them, not a rant about how you should be making more money. Put that anger into editing.

  17. Tameri, you sound like an editor’s dream. Good luck to you!

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