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Jim Hines - The Gospels of Publishing

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

  1. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Well, that's nice for you. Screw everyone who is concerned for making a living from their hard work. Oh, you didn't realize that every author who happily signs a crappy publishing contract makes it harder for other authors to get a decent one? Yes. That's the reality. This isn't just about your choice or my choice. This is about the conditions of working authors everywhere.
  2. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    No, just be aware that not everyone's sole motivation is making money. Of course I'd love to do so myself as well and I'm going to be wary of signing any "crappy publishing contract." But very successful people are still signing contracts. And very successful people are self-publishing. That's the reality.
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I don't think that's an accurate statement of Phil's point. There are, in fact, traditionally-published authors who are happy with their situation. My view is, if an author who wants to be published doesn't like the contract they're offered, they shouldn't sign it. If enough people do that, you'll see a change.

    However, regardless of viewpoint, I think you should find a more respectful way to express your disagreement. Differing viewpoints don't make people enemies. There are merits to both paths, and when someone defending either the establishment or indie publishing posts in this kind of argumentative manner, all it does it make their side look bad. This is especially true in self-publishing (which is the path I follow) where we already have to overcome the stigma of not being professional without this kind of rhetoric going around in defense of the self-publishing option.
    psychotick and Philip Overby like this.
  4. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    For what it's worth, my motivation isn't making money. But I strongly believe that every person has the right to be fairly compensated for their work. It is blindingly obvious that traditional publishing as an industry does not fairly compensate the majority of the writers who work within its system. Name all the outliers you want, it doesn't change the fact that most traditionally published authors give up all control of their work to the companies they sign with, often forever, in exchange for what? Shrinking advances and laughable royalty percentages. In other words, most of those authors don't make a living from their writing, from their work. (Of course, the industry has conditioned them not to expect to.) The publishing companies rake in the profits, while locking up the authors intellectual property, and the authors work day jobs to make ends meet. And that's a system that we're supposed to look at as being equally viable with self-publishing? No, I maintain that my slavery analogy is perfectly apt for those authors caught in the system with bad contracts, which was what I was referring to when I made it.
  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    You know, a part of me wants to be one of those really nice, really empathetic people, like Hugh Howey, that everyone loves. And I try, God help me. Often. But somehow I just can't make it stick. I'm blunt, I'm defensive. I'm, God help me, human.

    I respect people. I respect truth. I don't respect bad information or bad arguments. But I guess I should just pat everyone on the head and tell them they're doing a great job and they can make all their dreams come true as long as they believe in themselves hard enough. That always seems to be, in the end, what forums like this expect people to do. That's more comfortable after all.
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Really. Truly. Honestly. All we want is for you to talk to people without the snide remarks and sarcasm.
  7. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    Truth is not synonymous with "my side."

    To everyone. If you can't conduct a conversation that involves different viewpoints, please don't contribute to it. Stay out. It's better for you, and for our community. We are a community. A vast majority of us , as in over 90%, are going the self publishing route. Although we identify the challenges of the traditional route, we don't need to paint them as the evil conglomerate out to crush authors' souls.

    A sizeable segment of authors have fallen prey to the traditional contracts. I say it's the fault of the author for blinding their own judgment with the glamour of success. Peel away every cozy attribute you've built the publishing industry,and recognize it for what it is: a business.

    These business don't exist to build friendships. They don't want all these hopeful authors to come to the CEO's house for a pool party. At the end of the day, the bottom line is all.

    As it should be for authors. If an author is given a contract that robs him of his rights for an extensive time period, and he thinks those rights are lucrative, then why would he sign the contract in the first place?

    Before you answer, publishers don't owe you a second glance.

    That same author, if he's savvy enough, should realize the publishers see something in his work. Go self publishing. Done.

    "But authors don't have the money to do what publishers do!"

    My friend, you answered your own question. Don't complain about the rich not sharing their funds with the poor without a chance to earn their money back multiple times. That's how capitalism works.

    Self publishers need to wipe the snot from their noses and straighten their quivering lips. Put your money where you mouth is. Don't have it? Earn it. Self publish when you're ready and stop trying to ride the coattails of the successful.
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I think you're confusing message and delivery, Mythopoet. If you truly believe that self-publishing is the only rational way to go and traditional publishing is the worst choice any author could ever make, I think that's fine. I think everyone would agree that you're entitled to express that view. And you can express it in a blunt, honest manner without being insulting or snide. Being rude or insulting isn't a sign of passion, and on a writer's forum I know everyone here has the ability to express just as honest or blunt a substantive message as they like without resorting to it.
  9. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Look this all comes back to what Jim Hines was quoted as saying in the OP, there's damned few authors making a lot of money no matter which route they take. And it's all very well to blame one side or the other of the trade vs indie divide but the reality is that no one and everyone is to blame. Yes trade publishers seem to be putting out more and more draconian contracts of late (anecdotally), but indies are lowering prices and giving away books for free. So blame who you want, there's always enough blame to go around and in the end it doesn't really matter.

    What does matter is the writing books etc, has always been a difficult road to financial success, and that the only road to it is luck, talent, and a damned lot of hard work.

    Cheers, Greg.
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Sarcasm is a very useful literary device. I wouldn't expect it to be frowned upon on a literary forum. I also question your use of the word "snide" to describe my remarks. I don't think it's accurate.

    Now see, this is why I get frustrated. Because I have not said what you just wrote there as my "belief" nor do I believe that. I have actually explicitly stated that I have no problem with traditional publishing as a method and that if you can get a good contract that's great. I am using somewhat strident language because I am growing tired of people misrepresenting everything I say or ignoring points I am making or just attacking my method of delivery rather than addressing my arguments. Which makes it look, from this side of the discussion, as if I'm not the one who can't handle opposing viewpoints.

    I have no issue with people bringing arguments to my posts. I have issue with the quality of those arguments and where they are directed. In fact, I LOVE a good debate. There's little I find more exciting than an in depth debate about an issue I'm passionate about where the other party has really good, logical arguments and methodology. Where I really have to bring my A game.

    But basically you guys are just going to throw the "you're rude" card at me. I don't think I've been rude to anyone here. I will not refrain from calling it like it is where the businesses and businesspeople currently working in traditional publishing are concerned. But what does that have to do with the posters here? Why are you taking it as personally directed rudeness when I'm talking about an industry?
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Yeah, I know. I was just making the point that if that was your belief, it wouldn't be a problem. You could go as far in that direction as you want with no issue.

    As for sarcasm, snide comments, etc., they may be effective as literary devices. They may even be effective as rhetorical devices in some cases. So what we're ultimately left with are the rules of the forum and the tone of discussion the site owner wants on the forums, which is what we're supposed to be ensuring as moderators.

    There are plenty of sites that take a very hands-off approach to this sort of thing. There are some that allow all-out flame wars between members who disagree. I'm on some of them, and given the very lax rules in those environments my approach to comments may well be different. But it is a good thing, in my view, that not all forums are that way. I like to post on those, and I like to post here, and I like that the community standards are different here.

    So, ultimately, whether you agree or disagree with the standards, whether you think they're too restrictive or not, they are what they are. If you prefer the more combative, relaxed style of discussion, I think that's fine. As I said, I post in some of those places. But this isn't the place for it, so I think the best way to resolve the disagreement in principle about how to approach the forums is simply to say that in any set of forums, it is right to respect the rules the forum owners have set in place. Here, the rules don't allow for argumentative or hostile engagement. I think as moderators we are, on the whole, pretty relaxed in how we interpret it while at the same time trying to ensure that the spirit of those rules is followed.

    So all I'm asking, ultimately, is that when you're posting here be respectful of the rules the forum owner has put in place, and when you're posting somewhere else, do the same. And if that somewhere else allows a lot more latitude in terms of argumentative posts or even outright insults, then that's fine. Here that is not the case.
  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    All right, all right, let's all just stop discussing the things that matter and focus on Mythopoet's tone. That must not be left unchecked! Who knows what will happen if she's allowed to go around the forums spreading her dastardly sarcasm! Horrors!

    Oh frell. There I go again being willfully sarcastic. I suppose you'll have to ban me again. Can't have errant sarcasm running around in here!
  13. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I agree.

    On that note, here are the advantages that I see in traditional publishing:

    1. The publisher assumes all financial risk, including editing, cover, marketing, printing, and an advance. This advantage is not insignificant. Many authors who plan to self publish skimp on editing and/or cover because they don't feel that they can afford it. How much does that skimping impact their chance for success?

    2. The advance. What's better: a guaranteed $5000 or the potential of either a lot more or a lot less, including the potential of actually losing money? The answer to this question is highly personal as it depends a lot on an individual's financial situation and their aversion to risk.

    3. Credibility. Like it or not, a traditionally published author is still considered much more credible than a self published one. This credibility opens doors to reviewers, conferences, etc.

    4. Validation. I know that a lot of people on forums argue that validation isn't needed. The biggest question facing me as a potential self publishing author is, "Am I good enough?" The traditionally published author has that question answered for them.

    5. Access to more markets. A publisher can get me into book stores in a way that I can only dream about as a self publisher. Perhaps those kind of sales wouldn't make up for the lower royalty. Perhaps they would greatly exceed it. Personally, how much is the coolness factor of perhaps seeing my book in B&N worth? (Understanding that not many traditionally published authors get that much distribution, but even fewer self published ones do.)

    6. More focus on writing. Self publishing is a business. If you're going to succeed, you have to treat it as one. Every minute you spend on your business is a minute you're not writing.

    I'm sure I'm missing some of the advantages, but, even if a traditional publisher is offering me a draconian contract, it behooves me to seriously look at both the pros and the cons before making an informed decision.
    Ghost and Sheilawisz like this.
  14. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Mythopoet, you were given a 3-day Infraction because of your argumentative and hostile behavior and now you return to behave exactly the same way as before.

    According to the Forum Guidelines we do not allow Making degrading, snide or derisive comments, Argumentative or hostile behavior and Constant Negativity.

    You also give much more importance to getting the last word than to fostering community, which goes against The Guiding Principle.

    I am sorry, but I will give you a thirty days Infraction.
  15. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Some argue that traditional publishers don't really provide these things anymore. I would say if you're publishing with one of the big ones though, this has to be true. Right?

    Yeah, this is tough. If I was in dire financial straits, I would probably be of a mind to attempt traditional publishing first. This is simply because it's expensive to self-publish for many to get the quality they desire. Some don't invest much for editing or cover art, and seem to be fine with that. So you can go a cheaper route if you self-publish, it just depends on your philosophy of quality.

    I think this is something that tends to bring out the more "spirited" arguments. I guess I don't hang out in the right places, but some suggest that indie authors are all on a level playing field. Maybe I'm just around too many places that laud big name authors (or ones published by big name publishers), but I have to agree, in the fantasy genre anyway.

    If I'm wrong, are there big names in indie fantasy writing that I'm just not aware of? I know Michael Sullivan and Anthony Ryan, but I don't know many others. Both of them are hybrid authors as well though, so they have the advantage of both approaches. (But I'm not completely sure if Ryan is hybrid. I know he got big success and then signed with Orbit.)
    Again, I guess I'm playing devil's advocate, but some may consider this to be a pretty low on the list of motivating factors. Some may say their audience determines if they're good enough and they don't need anyone else to tell them.
    This is something I brought up before that was glossed over. I definitely think this is one of the top motivations in the present market. Book stores, as of now, still exist. Print books, as of now, still exist. People still go to these places and buy books. Amazon isn't the only place people buy things. Maybe there will be a day when e-books are all that exist. I don't think many people will be happy with that, but it is what it is.

    This is another good point. Some people are good writers, but horrible publishers. Just because you're good at writing doesn't mean you're going to be good at everything else. This doesn't mean that traditionally published authors simply have it better in this regard because they don't have to promote. They absolutely have to promote. For a profession for so many introverted people, you really have to get out there and do the damn thing if you're going to be a self-publisher. I guess some people get by without promoting by just writing more and more books.

    This is one reason I think it's important not to rush into anything as a writer. If you take the first contract given to you simply because it's a contract, then that's probably not the best bet. I'd have some of these people who understand all the "nasty" parts of contracts and really have them look over it.

    On the same token, just because you finish a book, doesn't mean it needs to be self-published. Or hell, maybe it does. I don't know. :)

    Also, one last point. As an EFL teacher, I hear lots of people complaining about other teachers taking horrible contracts and how that effects the whole market. If people take low pay and no benefits, then it allows these companies to continue the same practices. However, when you have to have a job, right then and right there, you don't consider things like royalties and selling your rights away, etc. etc. I'm sure there are writer unions and groups like the SFWA that help people watch out for these kind of things. That's unfortunate that there is this desperation, but sometimes people want to sign these first contracts they're offered because it's a way out of the rut they're in. Sometimes a healthy advance can be a saving grace for some struggling to get by.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2014
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I can't speak from personal experience, but I can't imagine a publisher not providing these services. Perhaps you are mistaking a previous conversation where it was brought up that publishers require a manuscript that is pretty darn good before editing? That's not saying that editing isn't provided - just that an author shouldn't count on the editor to fix all their mistakes.

    I tend to like what Michael Sullivan has to say on the subject. If you want to succeed as an indie, your work needs to be indistinguishable from traditional. I just don't think you can do that by going too cheap.

    I don't understand why. Let's be honest, the bar for traditional publishing is: a publisher has to choose your work and invest money in publishing it. The bar for self publishing is the ability to hit "publish" on Amazon. I did not mean to imply that a self published author can't build up a credible reputation as much as I meant that, if you take a debut indie and a debut traditional, the traditional automatically has more credibility.

    I kinda worry about the people who feel this way. There are two dangers here: 1. If an author is overconfident, he may publish something that isn't ready, wasting his time and money and, perhaps, damaging his reputation and brand. 2. If an author lacks confidence, he may never publish at all even though his stuff may have the possibility of gaining an audience. Seems to me that, if you're not even considering either of these two pitfalls, you're putting yourself at greater risk of falling to one of them.

    A recently expressed opinion on this subject is that signing a bad contract is always a terrible idea. I think that the "badness" of a contract is pretty relative. A noncompete should probably be a deal-breaker, but rights not reverting to you, imo, might not be that big of a deal. What's the rights to one book vs. getting a boost for the rest of the books that you ever write? I just think it makes sense to evaluate any offer instead of throwing it away because of a perceived lack of fairness.
    Philip Overby likes this.
  17. Speaking from personal experience in both indie and trad...

    1) To roughly match a publisher for quality of editing and cover, you're looking at spending $1000-2000. Yes, some publishers spend more than this, especially on "big" books. But that's the figure level to roughly match their effort as an indie. (There are ways around paying cash for that - but whether paying cash or paying "in kind" for services or getting free help, you're still looking at that as roughly the value). There are horror stories about publishers' doing crappy editing. I have one, myself. They're not the norm; they're exceptions. Heck, JK Rowlings' ebook was released in unreadable condition - occasionally, stuff happens, even on big books! But it's rare. As a rule, they give good quality. They must. But don't overestimate the value of that quality.

    2) Average advances are down to mid four figures, and dropping. Hydra and other ebook only lines starting up are no longer offering new writers an advance at all. As I commented above - if I was offered a $30k advance on a book, and could defang the non compete, I would probably sign it (even if it was taking all rights for duration of copyright, like most contracts do today), because I would see that income as investment material - money with which I could slash day job hours, increase writing hours, and literally produce several new books on the back of that income that would come much more slowly without it. On the flip side, I'd NEVER sign that same contract with a $10k advance, because the advance isn't big enough to have a significant impact on my time, and I'd lose too much money (very few books earn out their advances, so don't *count* on income after the advance - although it's nice to aim for!).

    3) Credibility can make a difference. Of course, indie books are now going up for Hugos, so things are changing even there. And most of the panels at the major SF/F cons I went to in the past year had indie writers on them. So it's changing there, too - because con chairs are recognizing that MOST of their customers (convention goers) are not published, and are interested in indie publishing. So they're shifting their material to accommodate their paying customers, like any good business. Really, the last place there is much credibility difference is INSIDE the publishing industry. Major publishing news sources, the very biggest of industry conventions, the old style major review sources (which are no longer the major review sources for most readers), and other bastions of the industry still have credibility issues with indie writers. As a whole, though? Indies are selling about one in every 3 fiction books sold in the US, right now. Credibility is more a matter of doing well than it is how you did it.

    4) I can actually see the validation thing. I mean, before I ever indie published anything, I had already had short fiction published; had long fiction turned down with nice, comment filled rejection letters; co-written a nonfiction book; won a (small) literary award; been paid by game companies for my writing; and generally had a pretty good idea that I was a decent writer. But if I hadn't had any of those things? If I was just starting out? Wow. Writing itself is an act of hubris - putting bits of yourself on the page and assuming other people will want to read them. Indie writing is even moreso, because you just put it out there, without having the "attaboy!" from some professional gatekeeper first. I had the attaboys before I indie published. I think it would have been more challenging for me, without them. So I get this. At the same time, I think that the ultimate validation is simply readers, and in the end, nothing else matters more, in fiction at least, than whether readers are enjoying your work.

    5) Markets depends on the publisher. For example, most small publishers don't get into markets you can't reach yourself. So this is not an advantage for (most) small presses. For larger publishers, you're looking at 3-6 months in B&N and a few indie bookstores, and then again you're relegated to the same places you can get yourself. YES, you'll sell thousands of books in those 3-6 months. Whether you'll actually make more money in that short time frame or not is questionable, given how much less money you'll earn once the book is in online sales only. On the plus side, however, the B&N market opens doors to new readers - people who have not bought you before. Some of those people will go buy your other stuff online. Some of those people will shift over to ebook buying in the next year or two, and buy lots more stuff online. So there IS still value in the opening markets. Keep in mind - if you start submitting a work today, it might not hit bookstores for 2+ years, and B&N will have markedly less value in two years than it does today. I can't predict how many B&N stores will be left by then.

    6) Time to write - this one just isn't true.
    I know it seems like it should be. But it's not. Indie writers have more time to write, less time spent on non-writing business stuff, and on the average are more productive than trad pub writers.

    All of the things indies need to do in terms of promotion, trad pub writers also need to do. Even at the high end, major publishers' promotion of books is exceptionally weak. Nice post commenting about what they offered one major indie writer here - I turned down over a million bucks in trad deals, plus other tips for Indies

    Bottom line: publishers do not market books effectively, *except* in that they market them very effectively to big book buyers like B&N, Walmart, etc. The author still needs to promote a book to readers, regardless how they publish.

    So that leaves other stuff - finding an editor, finding cover artists (or making your own covers), formatting books, etc. Finding an editor is time consuming, but it's NOTHING compared to finding an agent. And the trad pub writer today needs an IP attorney more than they need an agent, so you need to find that professional as well. Actual work on the editorial process is about the same either way. Making my own covers takes me a couple of hours, today, although there IS a learning curve (and I have a couple of early short stories that need new covers!). Formatting an ebook takes me ten minutes or so, and the print takes a couple of hours. Point is, none of this stuff consumers a LOT of time. And traditional publishers have ways of taking up a lot of time too, through little things...emails, conference calls, assorted communication about the book. None of it is bad stuff, but it takes time.

    Bottom line - it's a wash, at best, and if there is any advantage in time spent on non-writing things, the indie writer IMHO is spending more time writing and less time on other stuff (by a slim margin).

    Finally, you have to consider the culture. Indie writing culture encourages writing more. Traditional publishing culture encourages writing less. The writer producing two NYC books per year is considered prolific, maybe even a hack. The indie producing two books a year is considered *slow*, and is probably not a full time writer. Indies are producing more stuff in part because they know they can (no non-competes preventing them from publishing their work, no publishers saying they can't put work out that fast). And indies are producing more work in part because the indie culture has grown into one which encourages writing more. Not faster - just more hours. If it takes 400 hours to write and revise a novel, then it should be the work of about 10 full time weeks, the indie will tell you. The trad pub writer will wonder what they would do with the other 40 weeks out of the year, if they wrote like that. (Actually, a lot of full time trad pub writers have always used pen names to write 4-6+ books per year, to get around the "one book per year per name" issue major publishers have, but this isn't well known.)

    Are there advantages to traditional publishing?

    I would say a qualified "yes".


    For some books, that publishers really want, and are willing to put significant funding behind, yes.
    For some writers, who have earned the clout to defang the nastier clauses which are now in EVERY major publishers' contracts? Maybe.
    For some writers, who don't plan a career as a writer, but just want to get a book out, be published, be on the B&N shelves? Yes - for these writers, the trad pub deal is the best way to go, and none of the nastier clauses matter much. Really, it's the career writer who has the most to worry about from signing a trad pub contract, today.
  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Thanks for the response, especially about writer productivity. This has been one of the best arguments for both approaches I have read. I find myself still leaning toward the traditional method, but I may very well change my mind once I get both of my big novels edited. I guessed because of their lengths that would work against me to self-publish but maybe that is not the case now.
  19. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    I'd question how much marketing they do, but otherwise - good point.

    I'm afraid I'd have to question the sanity of any author who signs for that amount of money. Yes, it's better than no money, and it's better than spending your own, but it's not enough to make an impact on your life. And you hand over a lot of rights for that modest pot.

    These are nebulous. Bragging rights, basically. I know some people value them, but... <shrug>

    Bookstores, yes. Good point. Also, trad publishers have better access to foreign markets at the moment, although that's changing.

    You're only going to be able to focus more on writing if you get a big enough advance to give up the day job. End of story. Otherwise, authors of all types are doing most of the grassroots marketing, and writing the next book *in their spare time*. Self-pubbers spend a bit extra time working on covers and so forth, but that's only once per book. The big time-sink is social networking, which only the George R R Martins of this world don't need to do.

    Best point yet.
  20. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    It's a good post...but I also think that the "us verses them" war is dying down considerably. I see more and more people expressing the "no universal right way" mantra. This is what I said in the comments to his post.

    A very good post, and I agree 100%. There is no right or wrong way, just a path that best suits one a particular person…and what you choose today might be different come several years down the line. The important thing is to stay educated and open-minded and be agile. Personally, I think if possible everyone should attempt to do the “hybrid thing.” Diversity is a good thing…in society, in investment portfolios and in your writing career. Once you have experienced both sides, you can better judge which way to go in the future. My only other recommendation is that for those that do chose to self-publish to elevate your books to the level of those being put out by New York. You can hire the same freelancers that publishers use for editing and cover design. If you put out a product that is indistinguishable from “the real publishers” then you really have something. After all, your readers deserve nothing less.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017

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