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Jim Hines - The Gospels of Publishing

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by A. E. Lowan, Feb 11, 2014.

  1. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Hines is addressing the increasing sense of tension between traditionally published and self-published authors.

    Jim C. Hines » The Gospels of Publishing

    Hines is a very smart man.
     
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  2. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    That article is the only one I've read in recent times which matches well with my personal philosophy on all of this. There is more than one way to succeed. And--either way--it will not be an easy road. But do we really want it to be? Its about the delicious journey and the learning along the way that is just as valuable to me as selling my books. Thank you for this post. :)
     
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I do think a lot of weight is put on "which path is more successful and gets you the most money and/or exposure." I've heard stories from both ends of the spectrum honestly. Sure, there may be horrible contracts out there, but there are obviously good ones also. Otherwise traditional publishing would go away altogether. And self-publishing is still a relatively new phenomenon which isn't widely embraced by everyone as of yet. Some say writing a book is the easy part. It's finding people to read it that is always the hard part. You're going to have hardships regardless of the path you take.

    I do feel like sometimes there are "fundamentalists" on each side of the argument. Either do it one way or you're throwing your effort away. I don't really get this approach.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2014
  4. Nothing wrong with taking a good contract, assuming you can get one. EVERYTHING wrong with taking a bad one, which is all most writers are offered.

    Also kind of a bummer, waiting around for a few years to even find out if someone is interested in your book, when you could have published it and been earning some income from it all that time. But not a deal breaker, if waiting around to see if someone else wants to publish you is your cup of tea.

    Unfortunately, I think we are mostly seeing a breakdown around confidence lines. It takes confidence to even submit a work to a publisher. It takes even more to self publish, I think, because you're saying "I am good enough", whereas with submission to a publisher you're saying "I will ask them if I am good enough". Of course, in some cases, you have someone SP whose confidence is misplaced...and in others, you have someone who submits to trad pubs who could do enormously better if they had just a bit more faith in their work and made the jump to indie.

    But ultimately, many writers are taking BAD contracts from major publishers because they don't have enough faith in themselves to go it alone. Which is sad - because if you're good enough to get picked up by a major publisher, odds are good that you'd do well as an indie.
     
  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I get that this is one major drawback, but people have been submitting things to agents and publishers for years. While there are obviously alternatives now, some people may not find the alternatives as attractive as others do.

    I've compared writing to acting before. Like if someone wants to be a Hollywood actor, but others keep telling them, "No, you don't need an agent. Just go indie and do indie films. Look at all these people who have been successful going that route" for me it seems like if someone's dream is to be a Hollywood actor or be published by one of their favorite companies (Tor, Del Rey, etc.) then they should pursue that.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2014
  6. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    It's divisive attitudes exactly like this that Jim Hines is talking about. I've been noticing them a lot within a certain population of writers (and I've been doing a fair bit of reading in that direction in recent days, thanks for the advice!) who get very aggressive when their views are challenged, and who like to use words and phrases like "EVERYTHING wrong with taking a bad one, which is all most writers are offered," and "lots of [fill in your evil industry straw man of choice] do these things," and "this is common knowledge."

    I would also be very amused to see anyone who could ever meet me and think I lack confidence. ;)
     
  7. On the surface, I agree - if someone's dream is to do X, they ought to pursue that dream.

    On the next level down, it feels like even the bit I quoted is value weighted - since you're comparing indie films (which don't generally support the actors as their sole source of income) to indie publishing, and Hollywood to trad pup. Since we now have pretty conclusive evidence that more fiction writers make a living as indies than via trad pub, I'm not sure it's an apt comparison.
     
  8. Hmmm. Most of the data is pretty obvious, to me. But I've been immersed in it for a while now - so I recognize that what might be "common knowledge" to one person might be new and radical to another.

    For example, go read any fifty contracts from a major publisher issued in the last year, and forty or more of them will have non-compete clauses in them. It's likely ALL of them will have a reversion of rights clause which effectively gives the publisher those rights for duration of copyright. This isn't a maybe. It's not guesswork. It's not "someone thinks it might be true". This is the way the industry is right now. And if you want a contract with a major publisher right now, you almost certainly have to agree to some terms that are pretty bad. If you're lucky, and stick to your guns, you might get those clauses defanged some. Mike Sullivan managed that. But it's not easy.

    And this is stuff that is pretty well known, because professional writers are talking amongst one another at an unprecedented pace. People are gathering repositories of contracts, and people are sending them to experienced writers to get opinions. All I can say is, go talk to people. Network. Information is out there.

    And of course, as of today we have the strongest evidence yet that there are actually more people making a viable living from indie publishing fiction than there are making a living by selling fiction to trad pubs. Which is something a lot of folks had suspected for a year or so now, but no one has had the evidence to actually back up the suppositions.

    Given that we now know what we do, I'd still say that if it's someone's dream to be published by a traditional publisher, they ought to go for it. I'd never laugh at someone's dream.

    But if it's someone's dream to make a living from their writing, the odds say they are more likely to achieve that as an indie.

    People buck the odds all the time, though. Heck, just making a living as a fiction writer is beating the odds! And there are certainly still people who are succeeding either way. At this point, though, my own views have shifted to seeing traditional publishers as companies writers use if they have a dream to do so - and indie publishing as something writers do if they want to be full time professionals at their craft. (With the caveat that one can always do both, if one wants.)
     
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  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I think it's an apt comparison because you have about as much chance of success as an indie actor as you do as an indie writer. There are lots of indie actors who do very well and still make loads of money without doing Hollywood films. But if they take that path, maybe they're not following their dream to be in a Steven Spielberg picture. Or they'll never get their name on the Walk of Fame. Maybe they'll never be in Oscar contention. I know a lot of people don't care about such things, but some do. While lots of people make their living from indie publishing, I don't get this idea that it feels like the only viable path anymore and anyone who doesn't try self-publishing is selling themselves short. Just because it works for some people, doesn't mean everyone should do it.

    Again, this is coming from someone who would like to try the self-published path myself at some point, but if I'm being honest with myself, it's not my dream. Perhaps it can turn into my dream if I approach it with all of my enthusiasm. Which if I do try self-publishing, I'll be pulling out all the stops.

    However, my ultimate dream is to be published by Tor. Even if it's a far-fetched dream, I still want to try for it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
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  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I don't really get all the vitriol on both side of the debate. Seems like a completely personal decision to me.

    If you want to succeed as a writer:

    1. Work on your writing until you're good enough to succeed by either method.
    2. Choose which method makes sense to you. There are advantages to each choice. An author should educate themselves on each and make an informed decision.
     
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    What bothers me and gets me fired up is that people who support the traditional publishing path often make broad value judgements about self-publishing and self-published writers and their work. But these same people, when those who support the self-publishing path defend it, will cry out against any negative opinion about traditional publishing. In other words, they can talk about the "tsunami of crap" and about how low prices and poor quality books from self-publishers are ruining everything, but if we talk about all the flaws in the traditional publishing system suddenly it's all "Woah now, let's not get DIVISIVE."

    People who are part of the traditional system and defenders of the traditional system tend to act as if they can say anything they want about self-publishing and authors in general (The Donald and his "class system" for writers which compares us all to cattle, for instance) but don't want to allow anyone to point out that the drastic changes the industry is undergoing right now are due, in great part, to the obvious issues that are part of the traditional system. They can talk about culling writers from a herd, but we can't defend our points of view because we're too "aggressive".

    Well, I don't think that's fair. And I don't think Jim Hines' post is useful at all because he (and so many like him) is ignoring the fact that much of the backlash from self-publishing advocates is BECAUSE people in the traditional industry are almost constantly insulting us all over the media.

    He's also ignoring the fact that there's a huge community of indie writers out there who, sure, would love to hit it big and be one of the outliers the media always talks about, but mostly they just want to make a decent living from their writing. They don't want to have to hold down a day job or two and write in their spare time because of an industry that operates by exploiting them and telling them that's "how the industry works". And the numbers of indie writers who are doing just that are growing every year by leaps and bounds. But that's another story.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    That might be an explanation for some of it, but it isn't a good excuse. It is better when the discussion is reasonable and provides a good, cool-headed evaluation of either side. That's best for aspiring writers who are trying to figure out what route to go. Having a "backlash" and then saying "but it's OK because we were hit first" doesn't work for me. The truth is, you have people on either side of the debate who take the high road and try to make their points in a reasonable, respectful way. The more insulting loud-mouths of either side tend to get more of the attention.
     
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  13. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I agree that the "you attack me, so I attack you" approach doesn't really sit well with me either. As someone who is constantly looking at different perspectives on publishing, I'm really open to hear the benefits of both sides. What I don't like to hear is "why would you even choose the other way?" kind of arguments. These exist on both sides. The issue of quality in self-publishing is a concern that some people rally behind more than others. The issue of losing your rights and not getting a fair shake in traditional publishing is another concern. Both of these points are something I have to consider when I attempt to publish in the future.

    On one hand, I think self-publishing is going to go the way of Youtube. Meaning there are lots of people who make a living off solely their Youtube accounts (or multiple ones) and then there are people who post grainy webcam videos and have 14 views. People will seek out the quality stuff one way or another on both sides of the fence. I really sincerely hope that self-published authors continue to skyrocket and it becomes a viable way of income for a lot of people.

    On the other hand, I see traditional publishers to still be heavy hitters, especially in genre fiction. People are still interested in print books even though e-books are outselling in some instances. Maybe I look in the wrong (or right) places, but I almost always hear about the big new book in the fantasy genre from traditional publishers. Out of the current crop of books I have on my "to be read" list, I'd say maybe five of those are self-published, while about thirty are traditionally published. That's just sort of how things work for me at the moment. I think it may be slow coming to change, but traditional publishing is full of smart people. They're going to figure out ways to make things advantageous one way or another, hopefully by keeping people on their roster of writers happy by giving lucrative contracts. Will this happen? I don't know, but with the lure of self-publishing, traditional publishers are going to have to step their game up to remain relevant. And I think they're making steps to do that. Or at the very least thinking about it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2014
  14. Funny thing is, even as staunch an advocate of indie publishing as I am...? If a publisher offered me "game changing" money for a book, I'd be likely to take it, provided I could get the non-compete defanged. By game changing, I mean enough to say cut back my day job from full to half time for a year, say, or take six months off entirely. So anything in the $25-30k+ range would definitely make me interested.

    And I'd do it KNOWING that I was losing money in the long run. And KNOWING I would likely never recover those rights. But six months off from work entirely, writing full time instead? I could write a LOT of additional books with that time. So yeah, I'd look at it as an investment in my future career.

    As a general rule, I see self publishing as the better deal - for me. For the writer who's only planning to write one book ever? Probably not so much. Lots of reasons to want to work with a publisher...they just aren't the same reasons they were five years ago. ;)
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    First, I didn't say "it's ok", I said there's a double standard. My point was that most people who call for calm and measured responses completely ignore the fact that the traditional industry and its advocates are constantly insulting self-publishers. They scold the self-publishers, in effect, for defending themselves and their way of doing business from the people who would have their freedom destroyed. But no, we label this "aggression" and focus on the few angry people in the indie community rather than the vast majority who are happily going about their business making money.

    The people who talk about the aspects of the traditional publishing industry that are exploitative to authors are labeled aggressive and myopic. No, there's no way to look at a contract that pays authors pennies per book and has the potential to ruin their career that makes it "ok" and yet people still insist that everyone has to decide for themselves whether such a boiler plate traditional contract is good for them. That's like trying to argue that slaves should be able to decide for themselves whether they "like" being slaves and want to stay with their masters. No, I just don't accept that signing over all of your rights to your intellectual property to another entity FOREVER to do WHATEVER they want with then compensating you with peanuts and endangering your ability to make a living as a writer is EVER ok. (And for the record, those type of boilerplate "this is how the industry works" contracts are the ones the indies argue against. No one cares if you manage to negotiate a good contract. But you can't do that unless you're going into negotiations from a VERY strong position, like being a successful self-published author.) If you try to argue that there are things about the industry that are grossly exploitative by nature then you're hit with a bunch of subjective bullshit about how everyone needs to decide their own path. But I suppose these same people would tell people who are considering jumping off a bridge that they need to decide for themselves whether suicide is "right for them".

    Second, someone really needs to point me directly to an indie advocate who is, in their opinion, "aggressive" or "divisive" or any of the other labels they like to throw around while holding self-published writers to a higher standard than they would ever dream of holding the traditional industry to. Because I don't see it. Maybe I hang out in the wrong places. (I don't hang around the Kindle boards, for one.) But all of the indie sites I hang around at are full of level headed, smart, awesome, but definitely assertive people. Sure, there are the odd arguments and there are the odd trolls and there are the odd people who have too much of a temper. (I'm guilty of the temper, I'll admit.) And sometimes the snark flies thick enough to blot out the sun, which is when we're having fun. But judging a community based on a few misbehaved people is a logical fallacy.

    So where EXACTLY are people getting this impression that indies are aggressive and divisive and whatnot? Give me links. Give me examples. I gave links recently to some of the best sites to visit to get a good idea of what the indie community is really like. Where exactly is this other picture I don't see coming from? (Don't point to me. I don't matter. I'm not even self-published yet. I'm just a lurker on the edges of the indie community.)
     
  16. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I also visit lots of sites that tend to be populated with traditionally published authors. Many of them seem very happy with their contracts and their way of life. Maybe this is a rarity in publishing, I have no idea, but to say that everyone who is signing contracts with traditional publishers are equivalent to slaves is stretching it. If you don't like traditional publishing, fine, but I don't see the point in trying to convert every single person to become indie writers. It sounds like you just want the whole traditional publishing industry to collapse. I don't see that as a good thing whatsoever. Any option being eliminated in publishing is bad.

    This is coming from someone who wants to be self-published at some point. But I also want to explore every option. I don't believe blanket statements about one form of publishing or the other. They both have benefits and both have negatives. I'm glad there are people thriving in the indie community as much as I'm glad there are people thriving traditionally. The biggest thing I take away from these discussions is to be prepared for anything. If you want to be traditionally published, read the contracts to make sure you're not doing something you don't want to do. If you're self-publishing, don't fall into pitfalls that some indie writers have fallen into in regards to presenting a half-assed product. (In both cases this means SOME people, not all.)

    Overall, I mostly see how passionate people are about their preferred method. That's fine. But when people start beating each other over the head with "their way" that's when I start tuning out. Are there indie publishing advocates doing this? I don't know. I just know I'm a part of several communities and keep seeing the same kind of "you're doing it wrong" approach on both sides of the fence.

    Anyway, I've been thinking too much about publishing recently. Honestly,I have to finish writing something before I can even think about publishing. :)
     
  17. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Read closely, that's not what I said.

    I'm not trying to convert anyone. I'm trying to fight misinformation and exploitation with reality. I want all new writers to see the real, honest picture of how they are going to be treated by traditional publishing, I want them to understand the ramifications of their business decisions, I want them to understand that they have to make business decisions and that they need to be responsible for their careers, and I want them to have all of the correct information about the publishing industry as they possibly can. If they have all of that covered and still choose to sign terrible contracts with traditional publishers then it's none of my business.

    But most new writers don't. The industry has been opaque for too long. Authors weren't allowed to talk about what went on behind the scenes or the reasons they suddenly had their series dropped or had to start their career over under another name. That's changing, thanks to the internet and self-publishing allowing authors to talk without fear of being blacklisted by publishers. But there are still too many people out there who are ignorant of the realities of publishing as a business. And there are too many people fighting against those who are trying to reveal the dark reality with lies and insults. That is what I am against.

    This isn't about the "form" of publishing. This is about the actual businesses in the actual industry. In theory, there is absolutely nothing wrong with licensing your work to another company to have it published. I have nothing against this "form" of publishing.

    What it is about is that the actual companies and actual people involved in this "form" of publishing use the "form" to exploit authors. They get authors to sign contracts that give all of the advantages and all of the power to the publisher and give the author no power and the bare minimum of compensation. The royalty structure in traditional publishing is egregious. So is their habit of rights grabbing and imposing ridiculous limitations (such as non-compete clauses) on authors who have no resources to fight against them. Agents who set themselves up as "author advocates" but in practice encourage authors to sign such terrible contracts are just as guilty. Authors trust agents and are exploited so that the agent and their agency can stay in the good graces of the publisher. I have nothing against the "form" of an agency relationship where the agent serves the principal (in this case, the author). But the vast majority of agents and agencies just don't do that. Their loyalty is first to their agency, then to the various publishers and editors they do business with, then to their most successful clients and then to anyone else.

    I do not have a problem, again, with the "form" of traditional publishing. But in practice, most of the publishing industry is inexcusably exploitative of authors.
    One of the big questions is this: is an author more likely to thrive by going the traditional route or the self-publishing route? And, what exactly does a traditional publisher offer that makes what they take worth it?

    The traditional industry is scrambling to try to keep people believing that they are more likely to be successful if being taken under the wing of traditional publishing. But all the time more and more evidence is being revealed that indicates this simply isn't true. (See the Author Earnings data.) And increasingly the answer to the second question is, nothing. Unless the nebulous honor of their "validation" is worth more to you than anything else (to which I would say, seriously?) there's nothing they can do for you that you can't do for yourself in this new world of publishing.
     
  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I don't know, I find equating slavery to a publishing contract in any regard to be pretty insulting. Sorry.
    Well, I personally like hearing stories from people who are successful in traditional publishing, just as I like hearing the same from self-published authors. There are tons of writers who are obviously doing well or they'd all be self-publishing now. Why are they not? This is a legitimate question. Why doesn't the whole publishing establishment collapse if self-publishing is absolutely the only option. If it's such a horrible "form" of publishing, then why do most of the top names in fantasy go this route? So everyone who is successful in traditional publishing is deluded I guess? All editors and publishers are evil snakes out to exploit people? I don't get this argument.

    Again, I don't know. Ask George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and countless others the benefit of going the traditional route. Ask people like Michael Sullivan and Anthony Ryan who have been successful in both traditional and self-publishing. They must think it works for them if they're doing it. Does that mean I'll be as successful as them if I go this route? Probably not.

    Cool. So people who dream of seeing their books in stores are just thinking about "nebulous honors?" People who want wider distribution are just wasting their time? Again, your viewpoint isn't clicking with me.

    I'm with you on self-publishing being the wave of the future and certainly a more viable option than traditional publishing might be in many regards. I want to definitely explore this route. But it just seems like you're saying, "Don't even consider anything other than self-publishing. That's the only way." I'd say some of the biggest names in fantasy would probably disagree.

    This brings up another point. All this sales data and making a living at writing and what not. Is this really the main motivation for writers nowadays? Money being the main motivation for writing seems like a very nerve-wracking path forward. I'd hope to just enjoy what I write, put it out there with either method (or "form" whatever I want to call it) and see what happens. Particularly people telling me they like my work, not watching my sales rank every five minutes.
     
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  19. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    The whole point of this article posted by A.E. Lowan is that yes, authors can make it via either route. People have individual dreams and no one way works for everyone. Who cares what anyone else is doing? We should focus on our own journeys and let other people figure things out for themselves, while also being supportive of the community. Battling over which side is right isn't being supportive. Hugh Howey said it best: "we're all in this together". This article reflects that pov.
     
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  20. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I tend to lean towards the "we're all in this together" approach as well. Maybe I'm not as well versed in all the minutiae of publishing, but I just see denigrating one approach or the other is not really being beneficial to anyone. Of course I want to be aware of the pitfalls and dangers of approaching publishing blind, but at the same time I don't find arguments on either extreme to be very enlightening. I rather just run away, go back to writing and worry about all this later.
     
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