In the publishing/writing world lately, there’s been much chatter about authors uniting to fight for fair treatment and compensation from traditional publishers. A recent article posted on Jane Friedman‘s blog, journalist Porter Anderson discusses a report published by bestselling author, Hugh Howey, which has garnered much talk on both sides of the fence. This grass-roots movement is spreading globally, and many claim it’s a long time coming. What I’ve read on this and other forums indicates writers are speaking out about the poor treatment they’ve often received in the past. This includes everything from fair contract terms regarding rights to the author’s work, to how much the author is paid for said work. I also recently viewed an interesting video interview with self-published writer, Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn, and best-seller author, Colin Falconer, which addresses, among other things, the issues Mr. Falconer has experienced with traditional publishing.
We all know the story of the starving artist who struggles for years, or even until death, with poverty while striving to bring his/her art form forward for recognition and purchase. It doesn’t matter whether it’s painting, music, or writing, the artist is expected to go through angst to bring his/her art to the world at large. I get that. The artist has to develop and perfect their technique in order to produce works fit for public consumption and recognition. This takes time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears. I have no issue with this facet of the creation process. This time also serves to weed out those who don’t have the drive and commitment to succeed in the crazy business of, in this case, book publishing.
But times are changing. Self-publishing has blasted open doors previously closed to writers, and many claim it’s about time. Too long have the old “gate-keepers” of traditional publishing held all the cards. The digitalization of publishing has given writers options never before possible. To be sure, some, perhaps even most, of those first writers who began self-publishing turned out less than stellar work in their haste to “publish” their stories. But that too is changing. More and more writers are learning the business of publishing from the ground up, fine-tuning their skills, and hiring professional editors, cover artists, printers, etc., to ensure the finished product can stand side by side with traditionally published books. The truth is, most of the reading public could care less about who published the books. They care about the quality of the writing and stories, and want to be sure that the books they pay their hard-earned cash for are of professional quality. Over time, they come to care for the writers who pen the books. They seek out other works by that same author, and they tell their friends about the books and authors they’ve enjoyed. Readers become the most valuable marketing tool there is via word-of-mouth. In other words, writers, not publishers, are the hub around which the book publishing business revolves. Without us, the publishing industry wouldn’t have the jobs and companies they hold so dear.
Social media has made a huge impression on the publishing world, and on the authors who write the books the public craves. For the first time ever, anyone can access the words and lives of even some of the world’s most famous authors. Today’s authors usually have a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account, a web page, and many now also blog regularly. These windows into the writer’s world allow readers to tap into a writer’s daily goings-on and musings instantly. No longer are writers the obscure creatures behind the penned word. We are coming out into the light and being seen in greater numbers, by greater numbers. We are reaching across the oceans and lands to connect and be connected. We talk. We learn from each other. We hear the stories of who is doing what within the publishing houses. We begin to understand that not all publishers, agents, and editors are created equal. Some treat their authors very well, and fairly, while others do not. We whisper the names of these companies, and the people who make the rules that govern traditional publishing. Writers are becoming more vocal about the poor treatment they’ve received with some publishing houses/agents, and are warning new writers coming up through the ranks to beware. Writers are starting to lift their heads and wonder how, collectively, we can help those working in the publishing industry develop closer, better relationships with their authors.
I’d like to pause here and say that again. We’d like to help them develop better relationships. We don’t want to tear them down. Not really. Writers who seek traditional publishing want to work together to produce the best work possible for the public to enjoy. What we’re asking for is fair and equitable contracts and payment for our work. For those who prefer self-publishing, again, I believe most authors are simply looking to assist one another in the process. A growing number of writers are becoming what is known as “hybrid writers”. Which is to say that these writers choose to work with traditional houses/agents on some projects, while self-publishing others, for a variety of reasons. Personally, I’m in tremendous favour of this model, since it gives control back to the writer, the creator of the marketable work. I think we’ll see more of this writer model in the months and years to come.
It’s a hard road either way. Publishing and writing is not for the faint of heart. But it doesn’t have to be a competition, does it? I’d love to see a day when writers, publishers, agents, and editors like and respect each other. When contracts with publishers and agents reflect the true value of the work and the author, and writers are paid fairly for work which has been deemed marketable. I’d like to see writers have more say with regards to contracts, terms, and negotiations with traditional publishers.
Change is never easy. Change is difficult and painful, but it’s often necessary to achieve true, long-term success. I’d like to suggest writers and those in the publishing industry come to the table with open hands and minds. My first book was with a small, independent press, as will my second, soon-to-be released book. I’m in the midst of writing a third novel in a completely different genre, so am not sure where it’s going to land. However, if I decide to self-publish future books, I like to think I’ll be respected for my decisions, so long as the end result is professional, and readers enjoy the stories. Writing is an art form and creation process, but it’s also a business. Let’s all make solid, informed business decisions when publishing books and work together, rather than separately.
What are your thoughts on traditional vs self-publishing? If you’ve enjoyed this post, please do share, and of course, leave a comment. Thank you