Saturday, November 5, 2011

Choices...really?


There has been much discussion lately about the many choices writers have now when it comes to publishing their work. There are still the traditional New York Publishers; there are smaller digital-first publishers; and there is self-publishing. This has turned into flame wars between authors who, I would venture to guess, feel exactly the same about the pros and cons of each choice but express their opinions differently. And I’ve seen the heated opinions on Twitter about differing opinions on this.

So apparently authors have many choices.

Really?

I think there are a few authors who have lots of choices when it comes to publishing their work.  Authors like Courtney Milan who has self-reported her two six figure deals with a New York publisher, but chose to self publish. Authors like Barry Eisler, multi-published with New York, who turned down a $500,000.00 deal to self-publish (but instead went with a different choice yet – one of Amazon’s imprints, which isn’t really self-publishing). And authors like Amanda Hocking, who did things in reverse —established herself through her self-publishing and then signed a four-book contract with St. Martin’s Press which reportedly entered a bidding war that went over $2 million. 

But those are not the majority of authors. The majority of authors would probably say their first choice is to publish with New York (majority—not all) but the reality is that only a few will ever get contract offers by those NY publishers. That takes away a choice right there. There are also authors who will then choose to submit to digital-first publishers. Yes, there is a wide range of publishers from hugely successful publishers to tiny niche publishers, meaning a lot of choice but those authors might find their manuscript passed on by those publishers as well. Which then leaves really only one choice —self publishing. 

This past weekend I was at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference and I attended a workshop on author branding by Angela James. During a question and answer period, she made the comment to an author (who had submitted her manuscript to Carina Press but had been rejected) that “just because you can publish doesn’t mean you should publish”.

I don’t disagree with that entirely. I’d just had that conversation with some of my writing friends, when I’d noted another author who’d just self-published the first book she ever wrote. We discussed how that might not be in an author’s best interests in the long run. Sure, I could self-publish the first book I ever wrote. And some people might even buy it, because I do have some fans who like my work. But I know that book is utter crap and it would only damage my professional reputation to put that out into the world for people to read.

But I also know from my experiences trying to find an agent, then finding an agent and having her try to sell my manuscripts, that it isn’t always about the quality of a manuscript. There are very narrow things that editors are looking for, especially at the New York publishers. Anything that is outside that narrow box won’t even be looked at, no matter how good it is. Smaller publishers and digital publishers might have broader windows of what they’re looking for, but they still have those boundaries. So it’s entirely possible that good books go unpublished because they don’t fit within those strict boundaries of what publishers are looking for.  

In those cases, self-publishing is definitely a viable option. But let’s not kid ourselves — there are times it’s the ONLY option. Sure, Barry Eisler might choose self-publishing over a $500,000 New York deal. Courtney Milan might choose to self-publish rather than go for another six figure deal. But for most authors— those New York deals aren’t on the table for them to choose.  

So when we talk about “choices” we need to be honest and realistic. For the majority of writers, there really aren’t that many “choices”.
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