The Great Publishing Dilemma!

Hey Folks!

So, publishing… Yep…. Huh…

I dare anyone to say they know what’s going on with publishing these days. Seriously. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the business, or how short you have, no one knows what is going to work with publishing these days. Least of all the writers.

This makes things very difficult for a writer such as myself. I happen to be prolific. I’m not saying great, or even good, but prolific. I write a lot and I write fast. I have written four novels (none under 100,000 words), several novellas, and countless short stories in the past three years. I’d estimate I’ve written over 1 million words easy. This is all while having a full time job and a family.

But I’m not one of those writers that writes into the wee hours of the morning. Or gets up before dawn to hammer at the keyboard. I write when I write and when I do write I write fast. I can’t write late at night (too tired) or early in the morning (still sleeping) or on lunch break (eating). If I have some down time I write. If I have an evening or afternoon free, I write. I’m just lucky that I can crank out some output when needed.

What does this mean? It means I need to get some shit published! I have published my first two novels myself (DEAD MECH and The Americans), but have two novels that are sitting there. One has been written and with my agent for a year now. Great rejections. No, seriously. I got some very positive rejections. But no offers to publish. The other novel I just finished and have sent to my agent. Just waiting for notes.

Some may say that I am way ahead since I do have an agent while thousands upon thousands of writers don’t. I agree, it’s pretty cool to have an agent. But so far that’s all it’s been: cool. Not profitable.

And that’s the rub: profit. I love to write and will always write. It’s what I’ve done my whole life. But I started writing in earnest to make some dough. I have never had any illusions as to what the average writer makes (which is jack crap), but I have never aspired to be average. I have grand plans and sweeping dreams. (They may involve my own island and private helicopter, but they’re my dreams and I’m not sharing.) I jumped into writing seriously in order to turn it into a business. And like all businesses, it’s 99% trial and error. No one really knows what they are doing until they’ve done it.

So I write and write and write. And dream and dream and dream. Meanwhile, my words sit there. I sell some ebooks, I sell a couple of paperbacks, but mostly I wait.

And I don’t like to wait. I’m a doer. Hence the really fast writing. I get something in my head and I go for it full speed. The publishing industry doesn’t quite move like that. It’s a hurry up and…wait kinda business. I hate that. Drives me crazy. That’s why I self-pubbed my first two novels. But I discovered that while I may love being a writer, and have a knack for cranking out words, I do not love being a publisher and do not have a knack for marketing and promotion.

Hold on, let me back up. I do have a knack for marketing and promotion. I do not have the organizational ability to do marketing and promotion at the scale I need to. I have great ideas, but no follow through. Nope, hold on. Scratch all of that. If I focus on marketing and promotion then I can get it done. But I don’t want to. I want to write. I want to write a lot. If I could write full time I could complete a novel a month. No jokes. I could do that.

Great, so what does all of this mean? It means I am at a crossroads right now. I have some decisions to make. And I wanted to share my thinking on these decisions so that maybe you, good reader, might have some insight.

Decision #1: Publish everything myself. -Ugh. That just sounds like a ton of work. And a ton of money. Money I don’t want to spend and time I want to use writing. My agent is actually trying to sell one of my self-published novels. That’s how much I really don’t want to keep self-publishing. It’s a time killer and a buzz killer. For me, at least. But, I get to keep full control and work on my timetable. I like that part. I also keep all of the profits. I really like that. Again, ugh.

Decision #2: Keep sending stuff to my agent and just keep writing. -I like this because, well, I get to keep writing. And I don’t have to worry about the hustle of selling my novel. I have an agent for that. But that is a long process. And even if I do sell something (fingers crossed) it means more of the hurry up and wait game. Most novels are published about 18 months after they have been submitted. Sweet god! I don’t want to wait 18 months before my novel is published. And then at least another six months before I get paid! And even then it’ll be a small percentage of royalties and I will have lost most of my rights because big publishing doesn’t play well with others. And by others I mean writers. Yikes! But, I will be published by a major publisher and get the exposure that brings. If my work hits a nerve I could have a bestseller! Or I could get some interest by Hollywood and end up with a little movie option money in my bank account. That is the trade off. And quite a gamble. And since I write a lot. I can just keep throwing novels at the industry and see what sticks.

Decision #3: Sign with a small publisher. -How is this different than signing with the big boys? Well, in today’s publishing world, the smaller guys have realized they can sign some great authors, and get some great novels, if they offer a fair and reasonable contract and work WITH the writers instead of trying to screw them over. Novel concept. Pun intended. Most now offer 50/50 royalties split. Plus reversion of rights in a short time period or, and get this, upon request! Wow! But I wouldn’t have the market exposure that I would have with big publishing. I would have a lot less chance of having a bestseller. Or of getting that movie option. But I would be published. And I could move on to my next project and just keep writing. And in the day of ebooks, where everyone is equal on Amazon, then having a huge publisher behind me may not make much difference.

So those are my three decisions I am faced with: Self-publish and keep all control. Sell to big publishers and lose all control and pray I end up a bestseller. Or sell to small publishers, lose some control, get a fairer shake than with big publishers, but not get the exposure I want so I can buy that island and helicopter.

Pretty much what every other writer is having to decide these days. So why don’t I go into a little more detail with my thought processes. I explained some above, but let’s rap a bit here.

Decision #1: Honestly? Except for novellas and short stories, I think I am done with self-publishing. Except for the last novel in the Apex Trilogy. That one I have to self-publish in order to finish out the series in a timely manner. As for future novels I would prefer to sell those. I lose some of the profit, I lose some of the control, but I don’t have to deal with publishing. Or the hustle of marketing and promotion. At least at the level needed to get the word out there. I guess, in reading my own words, I’ve made that decision. Of course, I could change my mind at any minute. Say, for example, I all of a sudden could write full time. Then I’d have way more time to put into self-publishing. I could still crank out novels and have the rest of the day to market and promote. So maybe I should shelve this decision until my circumstances change. Great.

Decision #2: And to be honest it’s the contracts that big publishers want writers to sign that scare the crap out of me. Why? Because I know how to read a contract. I considered going to law school at one point. If I had I would have specialized in contract law. Why? Because contracts are the perfection of words. A perfectly written contract is a thing of beauty. It has no plot holes, no dead ends, no red herrings. It is exactly what it is and nothing more or less. And if you have ever read a contract for a big publishing house, and understood it, then you know you are kissing your rights to your work and your profits goodbye. More and more those contracts are turning into creative slavery. They put all of the risk on the writer and none on the publisher. They take away the writer’s rights to their work and take away the writer’s chance to make a fair profit from their work. Then, even if the book doesn’t sell, they don’t give it back! Sure, all of this is a generalization, and depends on the publisher and the contract, but for a control freak like me it is disturbing. Not to mention the total lack of marketing dollars that go behind a rookie novelist. Total lack. Oh, but the gamble of having a run away hit. Some call it the lottery. But a lottery is pure luck. I think of it more as poker. There’s a ton of skill in that. There is also a ton of waiting. Have I mentioned how much I hate to wait? Hate. It. I am leaning away from this choice, but what if I sell a novel and they dangle a fat advance in front of my face? UGH! Dollars or rights. Dollars or rights. Tiger and the lady, man. Tiger and the lady.

Decision #3: If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is the direction I am looking at. Signing with small, independent presses, getting a fair contract, minimizing my risk of losing my rights, letting someone else pay for the editing, the cover, the marketing and promotion, and having time to write without being worried I will have to go to war with the very people I am supposed to be working with. BUT, they do not have industry pull! They don’t have a budget to pay me industry advances so I can get into the writing associations that help get novels noticed for awards. They could go bankrupt next week and I am back to Decision #1 or Decision #2. Or they could just not know what they are doing and totally screw it all up. I have had a novel published by a small, independent press and there was no concept of ebooks there. That wasn’t good. That was a few years ago and I’d be sure to do my research on any publisher that is interested. But you just never know.

So why should any of you even give a shit about all of this? Because you may be facing the same issues and decisions. And you are also being bombarded by fifty trillion blogs and articles that say that you should ONLY self-publish or you should NEVER self-publish. Or that big publishing is EVIL. Or that big publishing is the only LEGITIMATE form of publishing. Every day I see blog post after blog post, tweet after tweet all saying you have to pick a side and can only be on that side. I hate ultimatums. And blind zealotry. It’s such a waste of time.

If you get anything out of this post I hope it is that you are not alone. If you are facing decisions 1-3 then know that someone else is also. And realistically? You know what I’ll probably end up doing? A mix of all three. Why? Because I’m a writer, dammit! Not a publishing warrior. Not a toe-the-line follower. Not a sucker. I’ll do what’s best for me at that moment and if it means I choose Decision #1 one day or Decision #2 the next, then so be it.

As long as I get to write and I get that writing out to readers. And get paid doing it.

…wait, which decision gets me paid?

And the cycle continues.


Posted on April 23, 2012, in What's Up.... and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. You’re stuck in the same dilemma that many face. Independent publishers are not a bad choice, but there are pros and cons. You get a lot more freedom, but the marketing won’t be strong like the big 6. Give it some time , though. Why rush? Small Indie presses are beginning to grow. You may find just the one that’s suits you best.

    • The thing is that the majority of authors I know that have published with the Big 6 haven’t gotten any marketing support. So no real difference there than with a small press. And it’s certainly not an all or nothing thing for me. Odds are I will end up with a mix when it comes to publishing. I certainly don’t plan on closing any doors or burning any bridges. All options open!

      As for being in a hurry there are two reasons: First, I hate waiting. But that’s just a character flaw on my part. Second, I hate having a product (and yes I consider my novels to be products) just sitting on the shelf not earning its keep. If it’s done then it should be out in the world making some cash!

      But we shall see. We shall see…

      • Keep in mind that the marketing we talk about, in many cases, is simply getting a book placed at the front a major chain bookseller. This drives a large number of impulse buys/sales, or so the trad. school of thinking says. However, one must consider if that is how things will work going forward. In the meantime, yes! Keep all doors open. The truth is, everyone would like to sign with the big 6 if they could. Just for recognition, if nothing else.

  2. I probably should clarify that I am not an All or Nothing guy. I doubt I’ll pick just one of the Decisions and stick with it. As many of you know I tend to change my mind a lot, all depending on circumstances. That is the problem with the climate today. Too many yahoos saying you have to “choose a side”. I say let them choose a side. More room on the fence.

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