In an ‘aha’ moment, I realized something startling.  I used to think contempt was reserved for ‘self-published’ and/or ‘print-on-demand’ authors.  The more I learn about the [traditional] publishing industry, the more I become convinced there’s a general disrespect for all authors, regardless of who they publish with.

The self-published author encounters it first, and tends to be less surpised by it…after all, we didn’t go the expected and traditional route.  Time after time, when trying to put our names on various lists of authors, either by genre, association, or location, we run into the exclusionary caveat, ‘this site does not accept self-published or print-on-demand authors’ because of ‘the high number of authors out there,’ or some such drivel.  We know that many of the old ‘vanity presses’ were scams, but we’ve discovered one of the newer, competent, high tech self-publishing companies, like iUniverse, that deliver exactly what they promise.  This gives us the advantage of knowing that we are responsible for our own promotion.

The author who publishes with a traditional company may be unaware their publishing house will most likely do little or nothing to actually get people to buy the book.  In an ironic twist, ‘successful’ self-published authors get blamed, since mainstream publishing houses figure any success by a self-published author is proof that promotion is part the author’s job, not the publisher’s.

By the way, if you are a self-published author, and you have any marketing skills at all, you’ve probably sold more of your book than most published authors.  (Make beating a hundred copies your first goal; if you wrote a good book, that won’t take long.)  You don’t need those ‘exclusive’ lists to succeed.  If you’re using POD technology, your book doesn’t have to go out of print, so you have a longer time frame to promote it.

Granted, some ‘published authors’ are bad writers; I mean the content, not the grammar.  The problem is, they don’t know it, and the ‘gatekeepers’ have allowed them to slip past.  Worse, they didn’t have a clue who they were writing for: ‘I just wanted to get my story out there.’  (In my case, I love science fiction, and I know fans of science fiction will enjoy my stories.)  Any good publisher should ask you who your readers are, sometime in the publishing process.  If not, they probably don’t know either, and don’t care.  This should trouble you very deeply, as they aren’t likely to provide promotional support, either.

Authors get paid very poorly.  Can you live on eight percent of your book sales?  That tends to be the standard commission, unless you work something out with your publishing house BEFORE you sign the contract.  Some self-published authors think they ‘got taken’ when they don’t get at least 50 percent of the book’s cover price.  “The publisher made more than I did,” was how one friend of a friend stated it.  Guess what?  That would have happened to an even greater extent with a traditional publisher.  Find out what your commission percentage will be with ANY publisher before you commit.

The self-published author usually gets a lot more than eight percent, a great incentive for going the alternative route.  A traditional publishing house has all kinds of people on staff, and they all have to be paid.  Chances are good they’re making significantly more than you, on your writing and that of many others.  The self-publishing company has fewer ‘middle men’ to pay, and yes, fewer ‘gatekeepers.’  That’s part of what causes the contempt from traditional publishing houses.  “They’ll publish anything.”  (By the way, if the self-publisher you’re considering WILL publish ANYTHING, distance yourself as quickly as possible.  You’re trying to build a reputation, not soil it.)

The publishing world knows most authors will never be able to make a living with their writing.  They may also be partly to blame for it.  If you only get eight percent of your book sales, how many copies of your book have to sell to get you that first million dollars?  (or however much would make you happy–I hear a million doesn’t buy much anymore.)  Can those sales be achieved in the first year, or possibly two, that your book will initially be in print?  If they refuse to promote your book, how will any readers find out about it?  Can success be found in the spine of your book silently beckoning to bookstore customers on a shelf crowded with other similar titles?  Are you even willing to take that gamble?

Unfortunately, a lot of people ‘write a book,’ then wait for their manuscript to ‘be discovered,’ chosen from a slush pile by some perceptive staffer in the publishing company.  Sadly, they expect a miraculous fairy tale ending that sees their book on the best-sellers list shortly after the wonderful news that the publisher has not rejected the manuscript.  At that point, it’s still possible for their book to fail to be published.  There are several more ‘gatekeepers,’ any one of whom may exercise a veto and doom the title.  After publication, these same authors might think that their new status of ‘published author’ somehow absolves them of the responsibility of promotion.  “I am an author, a verbal artist.”  (The reason the word ‘starving’ often accompanies ‘artist.’  Artists seldom earn the money they could if they did their own promotion, or even hired others to do it for them.)

The last person who should have contempt for an author is the author.  Make sure you can live with the terms of any contract you sign.  If you don’t understand the contract, have the publisher explain it to you until you know what it actually says.  Don’t let your own ego prevent you from earning what you should by mistaking ‘published’ for ‘successful.’  Most published authors never get a second title into print.  (I’m half finished the manuscript for the third title in my Martian Symbiont series.)  If you have a bad experience in publishing your first book, why would you want to go through the whole thing all over again?

Thanks for reading.  🙂

Phyllis K Twombly

About Scifialiens

Author of the Martian Symbiont series: three titles, so far; Been Blued, Martian Blues, Martian Divides. Currently writing screenplays. 'Mating With Humans' can be found on her account. Enjoyed writing from the start. Also a Star Trek and Doctor Who fan. Canadian so far. Paternal grandparents were American. Feels more at home in the States. Loves dogs and most other animals. Loves cats from afar--allergies. Plays flute and saxophone; 'messes with' keyboard and electric guitar. Single so far. Not really looking at the moment. Age: irrelevant. Not to be confused with the fictional comic book character, Phyllis Twombly, who lived for 600 years in the American Midwest.

4 responses »

  1. Joel Turner says:

    The Great American Press has no Contracts
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    Joel Turner

  2. dfrucci says:

    That was nice bit of tips there. I have a question, do self published books sell as well as traditional publishing? by the way, your series looks interesting, so when I get money I’m buying Been Blued from Barnes & Nobles’ website.

  3. scifialiens says:

    Depends on your point of view, I suppose…if I sell two hundred copies of a self-published title instead of only a hundred through the traditional route, which is better for 1) the author? or 2) the publisher? Seem to me, I’m further ahead with the option I chose, while the traditional publishers got nothing. It might just be a case of who gets the money. Then again, it may be harder to become a best-seller without a publishing house’s marketing. I’m working on it–thanks for your support. 🙂

  4. Terry Tibke says:

    This was a good article with a lot of good statements about the publishing industry as a whole. I myself, very warily, got into a JV publishing contract with Eloquent Books. So far the road hasn’t been ALL that bad, but it has clearly been a POD publisher in all its trappings.

    The amount of marketing the book gets is done almost entirely by me unless I put my own budget into the marketing program they offer. I definitely get the lion’s share of the profits when it comes to the comparison between the traditional house and the POD house though, which comes out well as long as people actually find out about and purchase my book: Armageddon – The Battle of Darkening Skies.

    In any case, I’m all for moving to a bigger and better publisher who is capable of doing more for less, as I move into the second book.

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