Essay–The Publisher Problem

I haven’t spent a lot of time submitting to publishers. After I received a terrible contract from one, a contract that would have destroyed all my intellectual property rights to Garaaga’s Children, I made the conscious decision that I was opting out. If publishers want to control everything, then I refuse to sign. It’s really that simple.

There are small presses out there that do not engage in such practices. If you’re a writer and you don’t want to go independent, you should seek them out. But be cautious–a rash decision you make today could haunt you for years. It’s one of the reasons you should network with authors at those houses, find out if they’re happy with their publisher and then decide if it’s a valid home for your work.

I remember reading an article by an agent–this was more than  decade ago–where  a writer got a call from a publisher who wanted their book. The writer, so excited at the prospect of being published by a big 6 house, immediately said yes without discussing terms or seeing a contract. Once the writer realized their mistake, they contacted the agent and said agent claimed he managed to get the author a decent contract. But the contract was not for as much as the author would have received had they kept their excitement in check.

This is the danger. When a I received my contract, it looked dubious. I networked with some of my friends in the biz, and they said it was BAD. After thinking about it, I agreed. I wrote an email, told the publisher the changes I required in the contract, and then sent it off. The publisher in question then sent me a terse email saying the boilerplate contract was the way they do business–there would be no changes made. Result? They wouldn’t publish the book.

It took me about a month to recover from that. It’s pretty sad to go from dreaming about your work being out there in paper, digital, and graphic novel form to suddenly see it fly away. It was a good dream. To have it smashed to bits by a shit contract was very difficult to stomach.

Eventually, I made my way past it. It still stings, especially since my book sales have been utter shit. But I made the right choice. It’s been difficult putting any trust in any publisher since.

I know writers who are going the “hybrid” model like Justin Macumber. He publishes his own ebooks for short stories and such. For the longer works, he publishes with two different small presses. It’s worked out well for him.

But why the hell would you want to go with a small press at all? I mean, if you can make more money, keep control of your stories and IP, why the hell would you got with a press at all? Simple–it’s a LOT of work.

As I’ve said before, being  a true independent publisher/professional means doing all the work and paying for all the work that a publishing house does for authors. They handle cover art. They handle editing. They handle layout. They handle, or mishandle, marketing. It’s what they do. It’s why they exist.

So yeah, you’re going to get lower royalties from them, but they’re supposed to be able to do a better job than you can do on your own. If you’re willing to invest the time, the money, and the effort, however, there’s no reason you can’t do as good a job once you master the learning curve involved with wearing so many hats.

I don’t blame folks for going the “traditional” publishing route. For many, it’s been their lifelong dream to be able to say “I’m with so-and-so” publisher and many will fight for that dream tooth and nail. Reality be damned! so long as their books end up on the shelves.

That’s fine. But read the fine print, fellow writers, and make your decision based on that. Several writers I know in the writing community have suffered the same kind of contract mess I have. They passed on those  contracts and decided to move forward on their own. The others? Their books and their properties are in limbo for up to 5 years. Sound good?

There are properties of mine that I’d love to just give over to someone else. Why? Because I have no idea how to market them. Hell, I’m not even sure they ARE marketable. Perhaps they’re destined to sit in my back-catalog for all my days without making any cash. That’s okay–I’ve already spent the money and time on them. So every single cent they make is just profit at this point. They’ve already lost all the money they possibly can, so it doesn’t matter much to me.

I still dream of being traditionally published. I think most writers do, even if they won’t admit it. But you have to weigh the pros and cons. Do you want to take all the risk and all the profit? Or do you want to risk less and take a mere cut of the profit? Make a decision. Decide which of your works (if any) are best suited for a press and which you think you can handle on your own. The decision may be a blessing or a curse. But always remember–it’s your decision.

4 thoughts on “Essay–The Publisher Problem”

  1. Why does this sound like my nephew’s experiences with the music industry. It appears you’ve got to be able to make it doing everything yourself.

    1. The “success” stories still happen in the traditional publishing world. There are folks that write books that are very marketable and the Big 6-5-4-3-2-1 presses market the shit out of them. When they do that, they can sell drek to everyone and claim it’s great stuff. People will purchase it out of curiosity more than anything else.

      I just depends on how they do their thang. Like I said, if you manage to hook up with someone ethical and good at what they do, then it’s a good deal. If not? You’re better off going it alone.

  2. I just can’t get out of my head the bad experience Nathan Lowell with a small press… I had the dream of becoming a small press publisher myself but that scared the hell out of me.

    1. It’s difficult to imagine, but there are good ones out there, else NO ONE would publish with any of them. I trust David Wood of Gryphonwood. Why? He’s a writer. He knows how it is out there and how best to care of those that come to him. The others? Caveat Emptor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.