Friday, July 31, 2015

Can We All Get Along? Part 1: In Defense of Publishers

Independent publishing is often presented as an alternative to traditional publishing. Either/or. Pick a side. Well, no. I don't wanna, and you can't make me. Nyah. I see merit in both, so I'm devoting a post to each "side." Here's the first one.

The objections to traditional publishing I see most often follow these lines: why would anyone go through the tedious, time-consuming, ego-crushing process of submitting queries & manuscripts to agents or publishers? In this day and age of DIY electronic and print publication, why bother? Why are publishers and agents so snotty and dismissive? Writers work hard and deserve respect.

Why go through it?  Let me count the ways. A publisher provides services on contract:

  • multiple editing rounds
  • electronic formatting
  • print formatting, layout and design
  • graphic design
  • product design (aka blurb, tagline & brand creation)
  • distribution & followup with retailers
Those things are all expensive. Really, really expensive, both in time invested and in materials costs. Most of them also require expertise that takes years of experience to accumulate. Few publishers in the science-fiction/fantasy market currently offer much in the way of advances or marketing to an unknown author, but that's only the frosting on what a publisher does, not the delicious cake. 

Yes, we independents can do it all ourselves or find others to provide services in areas where we lack skill <raises hand> but:
  1. Time spent on production and distribution is time not spent writing. A lot of energy has to be diverted from creative efforts, either in the DIY sense, or by acting as a book general contractor, coordinating and monitoring the efforts of hired experts. Some people thrive on having a big collection of hats to wear. I am not one of them. I would rather write stories. Or play on my blog. Or weed in the garden. 
  2. Did I mention EXPENSIVE? Publishers (good ones) invest in their authors up front. They cover the expenses most indie authors aren't willing or able to pay as a cost of doing business. And they have a vested interest in making their authors look good. We indies only ruin our own reputations if we produce a bad book. The publisher is risking the future success of all their investments every time. That's a tremendous risk for any business.
  3. The market is rife with predatory service providers who charge an arm and a leg for awful results. It's hard to swim through the sheer number of sharks in the ocean to find a helpful and affordable dolphin. They look so similar. That research takes up time too. 
  4. All the errors,  the rough spots, the flaws in a cobbled-together book created in a DIY process...let me be blunt: they make most indie-published books ugly. I can spot print production issues from across the room. More gaffes jump at me soon as I open a cover or click on "Look Inside."  (There are stunning exceptions to this, yes. They are exceptions.) Pre-made or budget-bought covers created by people without design skills, inadequate copy-edits, blurbs that don't spark: these all detract from a book's appeal. I will be the first to admit my writing is not as polished as if it went through a publishing-house edit/proof buffing. My covers and blurbs would benefit from the eyes and minds of specialists too. Some readers do not care. Many, many, many more do. Most of us cannot articulate why we don't click "buy." Or we chalk up our disinterest to the wrong causes. Read "Why We Buy" by Paco Underhill. Unnoticed details add up fast.
  5. I loathe the arrogance of boilerplate editorial rejections, but I understand it. Fact: the vast majority of the writing population produces some awful dreck from a publishing perspective. Traditional publishers aren't hung up on a belief that all indie authors suck. They believe the vast majority of ALL writers suck. Reading slush piles for a week will turn even the most optimistic Pollyanna into a believer on that point. Truly. The better-than-thou attitude isn't a personal insult. It's the weary burnout suffered by people who see the worst words humanity has to offer on a daily basis. There's a lot of ungrammatical drivel out there for sale. Some of them become bestseller indie books. That doesn't make the writing any better, not in any universal sense. 
I would give my eye teeth to have a publishing contract so I could leave all the tedious production & distribution crap to someone else. I'm not willing to dive into the submissions process, but I won't pretend what I'm doing is inherently better

I'm not choosing between better or worse, good & evil, indie vs traditional. I've chosen cost-expedient, immediate gratification over a long, slow gamble on getting someone else to do things and for me and still pay me a percentage.

 Independent production is right for me now, but  I will not ignore the flaws in my creations simply because I created them. Fact: my books would look better--would be better--if I'd had a team working hard at my back to handle All The Boring Important Shit. Fact: I'm not alone in that. I'm just among a small minority willing to admit it in public. I'm also willing to bet that they would be selling better with even the tiniest boost a few more names mentioning me would provide. Word of mouth from that publishing staff would be more precious than a bucket full of social media posts by me.

In summary...
I'm tired of watching mud get slung at publishers for being publishers. A full vetting process makes awkward, clunky, dull stories into better ones. It makes good stories look better, appeal to more readers, reach more eyes. Recognizing and valuing this reality takes nothing away from my dignity or my pride in being an independent author--and make no mistake, I am damned proud of my books. They are fantastic, and you should go buy them all now.

But I won't say there's anything wrong with a publishing industry that would reject my work. There's no need to claim the grapes are sour just because I'm choosing to grow tomatoes. So to speak. Indie publishing is great. Publishers are great. Or maybe we're equally awful. The point is, there's no need to chop down publishers in order to stand tall as an independent. 

Next non-review post: why indie publishing rocks my world so sweetly.


It doesn't have to be like this.



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