That post received a LOT of attention and even ended up being reblogged by The Passive Voice. When I saw the comments oh PV about the other side of the publishing spectrum- going Indie AFTER being traditionally published, I knew that side needed to be heard as well. So, it is with pleasure that I welcome author Anthea Lawson to share her publishing journey.
When Laura asked me to write this post in order to keep the conversation going about different publishing models, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because I was a traditionally published author who’s now indie. I’ve seen both sides, and I wish I’d known more about what traditional publishing was really like before I joyfully signed on.
I don’t have years of experience in the trenches (I signed in 2007, and by 2009 was no longer under contract) but what I do have is a desire to help authors navigate the changing currents of publishing. For some people, pursuing traditional publishing will be a decent choice. But there are other, excellent options out there, from smaller publishers, to e-publishing houses, to a variety of indie and self-publishing options.
Do what’s best for you – but please try and make the most informed decisions you can.
“Once I get a contract with a NY publishing house, everything will be great.”
Every single trad-pubbed author I know has been treated poorly by their publishing houses. Every single one—and I know some top-selling NYT bestsellers all the way down through solid midlisters to the once bright-eyed debut authors. I’m not talking about diva-author behavior, but basic stuff like remembering to print your books the month they’re supposed to release, or neglecting to place your books in the major big-box retailers, thereby cutting your print run in half. Promising a big sale on your e-book, only to discount some other author’s book, instead. Finding out on their last day on the job that your editor is leaving the company. Changing a secondary character into a raccoon (true story, see Laura Resnik’s excellent book Rejection, Romance, and Royalties for unflinching stories of NY publishing). Or holding a publisher spotlight at a huge national conference and vowing that every author is important and their career nurtured, while simultaneously cutting 90% of the debut authors bought over the last two years.
Listen. NY publishing can make you a star (if you’re lucky), but it’s a corporate machine. If you understand that going in, you’ll be in better shape than a lot of the authors who are chewed up and spit out on the other side once their contracts are up.
“But now I’ll just be able to concentrate on writing.”
Think again. If you don’t cultivate a social media presence, your publisher won’t be happy. And an unhappy publisher means less chance of getting your contract renewed. Plus, if your debut sales are too low, they’ll drop you without a second glance. So you better believe you’ll be out there promoting, in all kinds* of ways. Oh, and don’t forget the revisions from your editor (if you get any, that is – mine were nonexistent), and the copyedits (hopefully you won’t get the copyeditor who tries to ‘clean up’ all your sentence fragments, especially in your dialogue), and the page proofs (where you discover that a big hunk of chapter fourteen is inexplicably missing). All due immediately upon receipt.
“My publisher will handle all the details.”
Being ‘taken care of’ by a publisher also means being at the mercy of their decisions, often with little or no input about your career and what their corporate agenda is doing to it. The cover for my debut book was sexy—and completely wrong for the Historical Romance genre I was writing in. At book signings, people still pick that title up and say, “Oh, you’re writing contemporary romance?” Well, no. It’s Victorian set, though I point out even in that era people were naked underneath their clothes. We laugh, and the browser wanders off, maybe taking a copy of the book with them, but still. It’s obvious the graphics department completely missed the mark with my debut book.
For the publisher, it’s one error, maybe a book or two they failed at. They can easily absorb the loss. For an author, your career is tanking, fast.
“But the publisher must like me, if they bought my books.”
Actually, no. They bought rights to an asset they hope will pan out. If it doesn’t, there are hundreds more authors lined up, waiting breathlessly to be ‘chosen.’ It’s all in the numbers. Despite being nominated for a major first-book award, and the fact that my second book wasn’t even out yet, my two-book contract was not renewed. Sales were lower than expected on the first book, through no fault of my own, and that was all they cared about. It was released in the worst month publishing ever had (October 2008, infamous for bookstores returning thousands of previously ordered books ‘for credit’ in order to place buys for the holiday season. See http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2008/11/crash-flow-or-what-went-wrong-in.html.) The book was given a cover that didn’t appeal to its target market. And the back blurb made the big no-no of mentioning the exotic locale setting. It seems marketing hadn’t gotten that memo either. (For an exotic locale historical romance that is completely coy about its setting, see Indiscreet by Carolyn Jewel. All but the first chapter is set in Syria, complete with harems and sheiks.)
“Surely traditional publishing isn’t all bad.”
There are still a few places where traditional publishing excels. Wide print distribution (though shrinking). A big marketing machine (for select titles—ideally you want to get a large advance so that you qualify). Foreign rights sales (some authors benefit hugely here, others don’t so much – it’s luck of the draw).
After being dropped by my publisher, I tried for the better part of a year (along with my agent) to get another contract. We came close, but no bites. The only thing offered up was an invitation to write a short story for The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance, which I had to convince my agent was worth taking, despite the tiny payment. She and I parted ways not long after.
In hindsight, I’m glad I couldn’t sell another novel into NY. Not being under contract freed me to write an award-winning YA Urban Fantasy series, plus I discovered I love writing short-form fiction. To date, I’ve self-published four romance short stories and novellas. Ironically, my best-selling short story (released October 2011) is just about to equal the advance I was paid for my debut, traditionally published novel.
“But I need the recognition only a traditional publisher can give me.”
Step back for a minute, and think about who you’re truly writing for. It’s not the NY agents and editors. It’s the people you hope will find and read and love your books. Those are the people who matter, and those are the people you ultimately need recognition from. Sure, traditional publishing might help you reach those readers. A friend of mine currently has six million copies of her books in print. She’s published through three different houses, and works like a maniac, but she’s reaching readers, no question. Another acquaintance is selling thirty-five thousand (yes 35k) copies of her self-published titles a month. You can achieve your dream in all kinds of ways, but think about what it comes down to. The readers. If a traditional publisher is the best way to get you to your readers, then go for it. But don’t discount all the other options out there.
For authors who have recently signed contracts with NY publishers, congratulations. Keep your wits about you, and remember that you have to advocate for yourself. Enjoy the ride, and I’m sure in another couple years you’ll have all kind of stories to tell the newbies with stars in their eyes. I wish you the best.
*book-blog tours during release month (often set up by the author, yet still an unspoken requirement from the publisher), buying ads in places like RT (if you write Romance), purchasing your own business cards, bookmarks, and other promotional items, setting up your own in-store signings and launch parties, maintaining an up-to-date website, writing other material for the publisher like an ‘author’s note’ or special interview, making and paying for your own book trailer (if you want one), keeping up a presence on FB and Twitter, running give-away contests… the list goes on.
|Regency as Anthea Lawson|
|YA as Anthea Sharp|
Okay, my friends- it's your turn. I want to hear your side of this fantastic debate! Do you have a story you'd like to get out about going Indie after being traditionally published? Or are you in negotiations with a traditional publisher after some Indie success? Let's hear it!