Sunday, 13 May 2012

Publishing Myths Versus Reality

  • Publishers actively seek new, exciting authors. Publishers will always choose the safe over the adventurous, the well-known non-writer over the talented unknown writer, the book a bit like last year's surprise hit. Brace yourself for a flood of soft porn after the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.

  • Self-publishers, except for a few outliers, don't sell books to anyone except their friends and relations. While we are not all Hugh Howey, who has just announced his novel Wool is to be made into a film by Ridley Scott, many indie writers are selling well and making money.

  • All self-published authors need professional editing and proofreading. Some do, some don't. Check the sample before you buy.

  • Don't self-publish, as you will use up the first rights to your book, after which no publisher will touch it. Too many indie books have been snapped up by publishers after selling well for anyone but the most credulous to believe this any more.

  • Publishers will market your book, saving you the trouble. Publishers will market the socks off your book if they have paid a big advance for it. Otherwise, you are likely to find yourself on your own, just like an indie author.

  • Agents are looking for books they love. Agents are looking for books they can sell to the publishers they work with, as they occasionally admit in rave rejections.

  • Your book will be on sale in bookshops as long as there is a demand for it. After a few months, copies of your book will be returned to make way for newer books. But this does not mean you can easily get the rights back, as it will always technically be available as an ebook and online.

  • Amazon is bad because it is selling books cheaper than publishers want them sold, and in the end this will make books more expensive, which is bad for readers and authors, so publishers want to sell books more expensively now, which will be good for us all in the long run Who knows what will happen in the long run? I'll take cheaper books now, please.

  • If you have written an excellent book, it will find a publisher. Alas, not necessarily. If this were true, there would not be any successful indie authors.

  • Readers need publishers to tell them what to read. Curating is an important part of what publishers do. Readers are quite able to select the books they want to read, and have always done this. Now they have a bigger selection to choose from.

  • Ebooks cost as much to produce and supply to the customer as print books. Yeah, right, course they do.
Have I missed anything?


  1. I always avoid talking about this to my mother-in-law because it's all too complex (for her). Thanks for giving me a handy dandy succinct checklist I can simply hand her. :-D

  2. Your observations definitely support what I've suspected for a few years now--that if your book is a bit risky or doesn't fit neatly in a market niche, legacy publishers have no interest. But publisher interest and reader interest are two very different things, especially because many runaway hits surprise publishers!

  3. A very interesting post, Lexi, and as someone from the traditionally published side of the fence I can attest that - sadly - many of the things you've said about publishers are true. Looking back on it I'm amazed TAR ever got picked up!

    The one point I'm less sure about is Amazon. I've yet to decide whether they're a force for good or ill yet. I guess time will tell...


  4. Rebecca, when I think back to what I believed about publishing four years ago, I can't criticize any non-writer's misconceptions :o)

    Laurel, I think small presses accept niche books. The question is whether that is any better than DIY...

    Guy, there always has to be the exception to prove the rule. You are one of only two trad successes out of the many writers I've come across online.

    We don't have to worry about Amazon - if/when it increases prices (which has never been its way) a competitor will spring up just the way Amazon did when publishers became complacent.

  5. Some you missed:

    - All self-published authors are only self-publishing because they can't find a 'proper' publisher.

    - Getting a publisher saves an author time so they can spend more time writing (I know someone with a publisher who STILL has to do all her own marketing).

    - Getting a publisher means an author gets more money.

    - Authors who self-publish and then are published later on will be embarrassed by their earlier self-published efforts.

    - Self publishing is bad because it creates too much noise so good books get drowned out.

    Sadly I've seen these quite a lot recently and the perpetrators never believe they're wrong, no matter how many counter examples you give.

  6. Oracle, I had to rescue you from the spam folder!

    Thank you, those are all myths I've seen many a time but forgot. A good myth never dies...

  7. A very interesting post.

    Marketing is hard, but I know it has to be done. I would be a little miffed if I handed over a % of my earnings to a publisher, and still had to do the bulk of marketing.

  8. And it's such a large percentage, as well - plus 15% to the agent. I do think in traditional publishing authors are paid too small a share of the proceeds. Everyone else involved earns a bigger slice. Very odd.

  9. Thanks for a great list of reality checks. The industry is in such flux right now, new writers don't know what to believe. I think the main thing they have to do is enjoy the fact they have choices and keep working to produce the best work they possibly can before making those choices. I've talked about this on my blog today. Your post is a nice addition to the discussion.

  10. I agree with almost all of these except the last one.

    I work for a small book publisher. It costs $2/book to print our books, which we sell at $16.50. We also sell eBooks, which while they have a "marginal cost" of $0, there are still plenty of costs and possibly more costs involved including things like website development and hosting, hosting the file, paying for the service which sells the book, etc. Then there is my time as the employee who ships out the books (takes more time than an eBook) or does all the web development (takes more time than paper books).

    All in all, the costs are similar when we sell through our own catalogue/website. Amazon Kindle now has a better rate than Amazon Advantage however, so eBooks we get 75% commission but they have to be $9.99 or less to get that rate (otherwise we get 30%), whereas for paper books we only get 40% commission, but can charge more and keep that rate.

    In other words, it's complicated.

  11. Anne, I've already read your interesting post. I would just say that most authors do not have a choice between trad and indie, as they can't get an agent, let alone a publisher in these difficult times.

    Duff, thanks for bringing inside information to the debate. Would the web development costs be one-offs, so ebooks will become cheaper to issue over time, or ongoing?

  12. I look forward to a flood of soft porn fiction with vampires and zombies - and their equivalent in cookbooks too! Yay!

    Take care

  13. Kitty, why wait?

    I bet you could clean up if you penned The Vampire & Zombie Soft Porn Cookbook.