This is Part II of a three-part series about a comment left on one of my blog posts that gave all the reasons why self-publishing is a better choice than going with a commercial trade press. As I’ve always maintained, there are some great possibilities with self-publishing provided you know what you’re up against and know what you’re doing.
I feel these reasons aren’t a compelling argument:
Publishers would turn down my book because it’s very controversial.
Here’s a newsflash: Publishers adore controversy because it’s very good for news and gets people talking. What publishers do shy away from are subjects they fear won’t sell. They get their lead from what they see in the media because they will look to that same media when their book comes out.
If we see people talking about Alzheimers, then it’s a good bet that Early Onset Alzheimers will be a natural because it affects younger people. This is why Jan’s Story is such a huge hit.
However, if a book discusses the agony of ingrown toenails, then publishers would pass on it because it’s not a big deal, nor is it in the news.
But what about those in between topics? That’s where things can get frustrating.
For example, a lovely woman in my Penn Writers group told me agents and editors weren’t all that enthusiastic about elder abuse, which surprised me. Sure, it’s a tough subject, but so is addiction, cheating, and AIDs, yet there are a ton of those books out there. Elder abuse should be a part of our national discussion because it’s a sick, twisted aberration of our society, and we need to bring it out into the open as well. And agents are afraid to touch it? Hmm.
So yes, there are topics that seem to scare people, but to say that someone won’t touch your book because of its controversial nature is unfair. It boils down to the topic and an author’s platform.
With nonfiction, controversial subjects really need a strong author platform because it’s the only way a reader will take you seriously. If you claim to have proof that the medical community is hiding cancer cures, then you not only need a rocking amount of proof, but a platform to back it up. This is a large part of why I reject works…lack of proof, and lack of author platform. I adore something provocative, but the author has to be bullet-proof.
And it’s not just nonfiction. Years ago, an editor friend of mine read a manuscript (fantasy) whose main characters were gay. It was a good book, and she was prepared to take it to her submissions committee for their gay imprint. The author refused to allow it to be considered for that imprint, insisting that the book should be marketed as mainstream fantasy. My friend didn’t believe it would sell well to a mainstream crowd.
The author was livid and accused my friend of being afraid to publish a controversial story to a mainstream audience. It was a ridiculous argument because it’s about marketing to the audience who will embrace the book. It’s like me trying to market PULSE OF MY HEART (a gorgeous love story about an amazing Heart Couple) to an Alzheimer’s readership. Epic fail.
Making blanket statements that publishers shy away from controversy holds zero water because there is always a solid reason for it. If you hear this from an editor and decide to self-pub, then you need to be doubly aware of the uphill road facing you in terms of making sales should you decide to self-pub.
The publisher refused to print the “real” facts of my book.
Editors don’t obfuscate the facts an author has written without good reason. For example, if an author’s book about the power of positive thinking has a section that states a coffee enema guarantees your mood will improve could lead an editor to balk. Does this make the editor horrible and the author unfairly treated, or is there no quantitative proof that this advice is valid?
Before an editor removes content, she discusses the problem with the author, so there are no surprises. It’s provocative to make blanket statements about publishers refusing to print the “real” facts because it makes no sense. And if a publisher does refuse to print the “real” facts, then the author needs to appreciate the uphill battle they face in going it alone, where they don’t have support or a literary barometer.
Have you felt victimized by a publisher or agent whom you felt didn’t want your book because it was too controversial, or refused to print what you feel are the real facts? If so, do you feel it was an arbitrary decision, or did they point out the problems with your story?