Thursday, February 27, 2014

The tedious round of 'my one is better than your one'...

Hugh Howey got a bit of a s&!t storm going with his new blog and the subsequent online discussions ongoing. Winding up the indie vs. traditional publishing argument a notch or two or three. Yikes.  Sure, traditional publishing is not the only way to publish, distribute, market and successfully sell a book. Nor is traditional publishing a perfect model, unassailable, beyond criticism. Indie publishing is an exciting alternative offering greater personal control over your product and potentially a bigger share of any rewards. It offers opportunity when traditional publishing has increasingly become a closed shop. There are real advantages. But is not the answer to everything (that is, of course, 42). Indie publishing requires that authors know what all the steps in the publishing process are. This information is widely available online. There are forums discussing the ins and outs, and providing decent advice. But everything you need to know is not necessarily in one place. And people seem easily tempted to skip one or more steps. And we don’t always know the questions we should be asking or what it is we don't know.

If you are going the indie route into print publishing, the book distribution and selling channels are still very much run on the old traditional model. They are aware that times are changing and mostly appreciate that change is now unavoidable, but the changes taking place are creakingly slow. Many a small print publisher has come a cropper trying to distribute and sell through the old model. Indie publishers are still struggling to make the income and outgoings balance. Again you will need to find information on which operators are more advanced in the process of changing and which operators are indie friendly. You can’t just be the author if you go indie. You have to be business savy, understand some accountancy principles, some contract law, keep records, know tax requirements, and how these tax requirements are affected if you sell books overseas, negotiate arrangements with a raft of different organisations and oh, write the books. And if writing is your jam than this needs to be your biggest investment of time, compared with all the other aspects of producing a book. Those books might take you months or more to write but it doesn’t take a reader that long to consume them and if they like you, don’t you want to make them even happier with more titles? This is definitely Howey advice I agree with. But as you can see this can all be rather exhausting if you are captaining your own ship.

Meanwhile trying to get a toe in the door in traditional publishing can be a heart squeezing, confidence sucking, soul destroying journey. There is a reason whole blog posts, in fact whole blogs, are devoted to rejections. They are the curse and the badge of honour of writers and book illustrators everywhere. For all the time an independent party has been involved in selecting material to publish, there have been rejections. And there will always be many more manuscripts thrown at traditional publishers, then available publication slots to fit them into. And shoot me now but I don’t believe all manuscripts written should be reproduced for others to read. And some books published, no matter who was responsible – indie or traditional, are not a good experience. Although traditional publishers do like to put it out there that they are experienced practitioners in the art of selection, there are times when you wonder, what were they thinking?? Anyone can make mistakes I guess.

So what am I trying to say here? Anyone who thinks they have all the answers is deluded. No one system or method is ‘the’ system or method that everyone should use. Good books, even great books get rejected by traditional publishers. And poorly written books can be plucked from indie obscurity and sell by the truckload and be beloved. And everything in between. Please do not try telling me traditional publishing is dead. Please do not try telling me indie publishing is for suckers or any denigratory category of humanity. Please do not say I should publish my books ‘this’ way or ‘that’ way and be damned. And Stop Fighting.

If you choose indie publishing, for ‘whatever’ reason, be professional about it (and polite). You are taking on a business proposition publishing a book – whether it is your own or someone else’s. If you have not published a book before, it is smart to assume you will need help to do it. Unless you are a professional editor, artist, or designer, hire folk who are to work on your book (and maybe even if you are any or all of those – being too close to a project can mess with your objectivity). Get recommendations or look at the acknowledgements of a book you admire the look and readability of to find good editors, artists and book designers. It is possible to be your own publicist and marketer but expect to devote a significant amount of time to this to make a difference. And be prepared for your efforts to make no difference at all. Hugh Howey advises to just get on with the writing rather than focus on your own PR. He appreciates his experience of success through word of mouth is not a common one. I don’t think he could give you any tips that could guarantee to replicate his success.

And if you are happily traditionally published (and not everyone who is traditionally published is happy about it) learn from your experience and share what you know. And don’t assume this naturally makes you better than any other writer. If you want to be traditionally published then keep trying. New people continue to get traditionally published all the time.  But if you fancy the indie route, do that. And could either side stop telling the other side they’re better or worse or broken or stupid or ….insert insult here. And could everyone stop acting like these are life or death matters? I’ve had publishing droughts, slow sales, and meagre advances via both indie and traditional routes, but blow me down if I’m not still going. And sometimes good things happen. It’s the long game. I don’t expect miracles or shiploads of money (although I intend to enjoy them if they happen). If you see everyone as the enemy you will end up spending all your time fighting battles. If you agonise over every deal wondering if you could wring more out of it you might never discover the benefits of enjoying the moment and moving forward to the next and valuing what you DO have.

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