Open Call to All Publishers – Have I been Wrong All This Time?

I began writing when I was only eight years old. By the time I was thirteen, I had already written my first full length novel. Less than a year after its completion, after everyone and their brother at my middle school had read the book, I took their words of encouragement to heart and began researching on how to get my book into publication through traditional publishing houses. The next ten plus years saw three more novels written and several hundred query letters, novel summaries, chapter submissions, and more rejection letters than I can count at this point. I’ve been turned down by everyone from Random House to Aardvark Press. I never took it as a sign that I should stop writing, because, after all, there are some really, really crappy books in publication. I just took it that I was young and needed to keep writing. Practice makes perfect, or so the old saying goes.

I took a reprieve from trying to get published for a while, allowing ideas to begin to form inside of my head before I once again took up the call of the pen in 2002. I wrote for fun off and on for about a year, posting short stories to social media sites. I wrote under the Avatar name of “PoisonRunner” and soon had tens of thousands of readers crashing my Yahoo! 360 page on a daily basis. I was bombarded with messages and posts of encouragement, everyone wanting to know why I wasn’t trying to get published. I decided, “Why not?” After all, I had spent more than ten years learning the business inside and out. I was older, wiser, my writing style had greatly improved over the years, and despite all the rejection letters (some of them incredibly harsh, by the way) I had received over the years, my passion for cultivating a well-told story could not be dashed by mere words from some of the top publishers.

Soon I was scouring the internet trying to get the scoop on some of the well established but lesser known publishers. What I discovered was much more of the same that I had encountered all those years ago when I was just starting out. More rejection letters, but now the rules had changed a bit. Most publishers were no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts, forcing me to add yet another person to the mix in the form of a literary agent who would ultimately take a chunk out of the royalty pie.

The contracts that I got shown were atrocious to say the least. Most of them either had me signing away my copyrights altogether or had me giving the publisher an exclusive prints right to my work that never expired, meaning that if the book flopped with one publisher I could never take it to another publisher down the road in hopes of getting it spruced up and re-released with a new publisher. Most of them were doing little more than allowing me to use their name as the publishing house on the inside cover.

There were no advancements offered and none of them were going to put forth a single penny towards marketing and promoting the book, two things that determine if a book lives or dies in the literary market. The publishers kept 100% complete control over all aspects of the final product, including cover art and the final draft that went to print. For those who do not understand the full weight of this statement, it meant that the publisher withheld the right to rewrite the story and change it any way they saw fit, without my approval and oftentimes without my knowledge. Ultimately the publisher was turning me, the creator and writer of the work, into little more than a ghost writer, being just the person who came up with the initial idea, leaving the publisher to hammer out the details and rewrite it into whatever they thought they could make a quick buck off of.

I hoped that this was not the norm, so I continued to look into larger houses, smaller houses, indie houses, anyone and everyone that I could think of, find on the internet, and even some odd-ball houses that other authors suggested or that I found on blogs and other websites. The end product? The exact same thing: contracts that took away any future printing rights for anyone other than said house, no advancements, the publisher kept 100% control over final product, 0% upfront money being spent on marketing and promotion until I had cleared several hundred thousand copies or money earned off the book, whichever came first, and absolutely no marketing plan for me to follow in the meantime to help get the ball rolling. Ultimately, the publishers were telling me that they would lend me their house name for the inside cover, but all marketing and promoting would not only have to be handled by me, but the cost of those endeavors would have to come out of my own pocket.

Needless to say, my first reaction to all of this over the years has been, “If you are not going to help market and promote the book, then why would I bother signing a contract with you?” My next questions were subsequently, “If I have to do all the work that you should be doing, why am I having to share my royalties with you?” and finally “If you are not helping to get the word out on my book, then exactly what is in this deal for me?”

It is these questions that go unanswered that has driven so many authors to just self-publish their work. With traditional publishers, it is all about compromise. You write the initial draft and the editors and publishers turn it into whatever they think will make them money. It isn’t the author’s story, it is the publisher’s version of their story. You don’t have that in self-publication. It is the author’s story told how the author intended. About the only compromise you have is how much money and time you can invest to get the best cover art work and editors and which platform you want to publish to. You keep complete control, you keep your copyrights, you keep the print rights, and best of all, you keep all the royalties. Of course there is always the cost of editors, graphic artists, swag, etc. if you decide to purchase all that, but those costs are factored into royalties received from a traditional publisher, so you have to pay for all this regardless of whether you go traditional or self-published. The only difference is that if you are one of the lucky authors who is savvy enough to create your own cover art work and do all the PR work yourself, then you cut out a huge chunk of costs that you can’t cut out if you go the traditional route.

I know, this has little to do with the title of the article. But I’m getting there. As I have outlined above, I have more than 3 DECADES of experience with traditional publishers and nearly ten years experience as an independently published author who owns her own publishing house. I shouldn’t have to constantly repeat to everyone that I KNOW what I’m doing and I KNOW how the traditional publishing model works. Yet, I find myself constantly having to repeat this to fledgling authors on FB all the time. They keep asking for advice, and when I give them the straight-up dirty truth on how it all works, they immediately turn on me, screaming that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I didn’t give them the rose-colored happy ‘now-I’m-famous-and-rich’ ending that they keep dreaming about. Those authors who don’t know any better are bad enough, but when I’m also constantly being told that I am not a ‘true’ writer because I no longer seek out traditional publishers and also told that I would suddenly become a well known author if I would just try to get a mainstream publishing deal by authors who claim to actually BE in the mainstream publishing business, then that just pisses me off. I may not can account for what someone else knows, but when I have already been through the process more times than I can count and I know FIRST HAND how it all works and they still want to sit there and tell me I’m wrong, then sorry, no, I will no longer put up with your delusions of grandeur.

Which brings me back to the whole point behind this article. After all, I did say it was an open call to all publishers, and it is. I am sending out a major SOS call to ANY publisher, be it small, indie, large, whatever, who is willing to prove me wrong. You read that right. I want to sign a publishing deal with any house that is willing to put up with me. I want a publisher to prove to me that I’ve been wrong about them. I want a publisher to prove to me that everything I just posted above is wrong, that I am delusional, that what I wrote is not the way the publishing world works. I want a publisher who is not going to just take my work, slap it up on Amazon, and walk away with half my royalties. In other words, I want a publisher who is actually going to help me get my work out to the masses, support me, and not just have me do all the work.

So here is the deal. I’m willing to come off my most popular erotic romance, Vindictus, The Dark Lord to whichever publishing company can do the following:

1. Advancements are up for negotiation. Whether you offer them or not is up to the rest of the contract and are not a deal breaker.

2. Marketing and promotion plans are a must. Even if you do not plan to put any financial backings into the endeavor, you must at least provide a detailed marketing plan that you plan to use to market and promote the book. There also must be a separate or joint marketing plan that I can follow as well as I do not expect the publisher to do all the work. HOWEVER, if you are not putting up any financial backing into either the marketing of the work or advancements, I expect you to take on the majority of the marketing. This must be provided prior to any contracts are signed so I know how much work is expected from me and how much work the publisher is goingto put into the marketing. Again, if you are not actively marketing the product then what are you doing for me as a publisher?

3. Limited exclusive printing rights. Unless you are willing to offer me a half-million dollar advancement or are Random House, I will not sign any exclusive printing rights contracts. I know this is not the norm for most contracts, but if you are a small indie house then I am not about to sign away my printing rights in hopes the book doesn’t bomb and then never be able to take it to another publisher. I am, however, willing to sign a limited printing rights contract. Basically, depending on any advancements and your overall marketing plans, I will sign a limited time exclusive printing rights contract. I will give the publisher up to 3 years of exclusive print rights on the book dependent upon how well the book is doing. In other words, if the book is doing well then I am willing to extend the print rights to the publisher indefinitely, but if the book is not doing well we are both going to cut our losses and allow me the chance to take the book to another publisher if I so wish.

And that’s it. I don’t ask for much. Advancements are not needed and honestly not expected, but I expect a marketing plan to be in place prior to any contracts being signed, and if the book is not doing well I reserve my right to terminate the print rights agreement and take the book to another publisher.

So traditional publishers, prove to me that I have been wrong about you all this time. Prove to me that you are not out there just taking authors’ works, slapping it up on Amazon, taking royalties, and not providing any type of marketing and promotions. Prove to me that you are an actual asset to authors, that you are needed, and that you can do for authors what they can’t do for themselves self-publishing. Or have I been preaching the gospel this whole time?

I’m interested in finding out……

From Rags to Riches: Is the Traditional Publishing Model Broken, and is Self Pubbing Making it Worse?

If the traditional publishing industry is broken, has the self pub wave helped to alleviate some of the heartbreak that comes with trying to get published through traditional routes, or has it only made it that much harder for talented writers to finally have their voices heard?

For some authors, just seeing their works in print and available for sale on such platforms as Amazon and Barns & Noble has been enough to recognize their life-long dream when it comes to writing. For others, they are not just looking for the self-satisfaction of seeing their works up for sale online, but long for all the fame and fortune that landing a big book deal could mean for them. Enter onto the scene the self pub industry and many, many indie publishing houses, agents, editors, cover artists, and scam artists who are offering desperate and inexperienced authors the chance to “break into” and “make it big” in the self pubbing industry. It’s a problem compounded by the fact that with so many new “writers” entering into the industry, the chances of making a name for yourself, much less being able to make enough money off of sales to write full-time, has went from astronomical to nearly impossible. That’s not to say that there are not any famous indies/self-published authors out there, any more than you could say that there are not any famous and well to do traditionally published authors out there. But those success stories are the exception, not the norm, and it is this little, and often unknown fact that has the entire self pubbing industry in a tizzy.

Let’s get real for a moment. Being a writer is not easy. Even when you go the traditional route, writing is only part of the job you will have to undertake as a writer.  First there is the taxing duty of finding an agent who is willing to take you on as a client. This means a never-ending stream of query letters and chapter submissions. If you are lucky enough to finally find an agent, there will then be the endless rounds of submitting the work to an editor and rewrites upon rewrites. Then there are the submissions to publishing houses and even more trips to the editor and rewrites. And if luck is on your side and one day you get the call from your agent that a publisher is interested, the waiting game begins again as final edits are made, cover art is decided upon (not by the author, mind you), and a release date of upwards to eighteen months is set. And if you are not an “A-list” author, your job still is not over as you spend the next year of your life trying to market and publicize the upcoming release.

Vanity presses sought to change all that by making it easier for a writer to just buy their way into instant publication. But writers have day jobs and drive beat up cars for a reason – writing gigs simply do not pay. So while people who had the financial means to accommodate their vanity and pay to have their books published, it was not an option for your standard, run-of-the-mill starving artist. So you had instant self-publication services such as LuLu and Createspace pop up to fill the gap, allowing authors to instantly publish print and ebook copies of their work as a print-on-demand service, allowing authors to pay a percentage of each work sold as payment for the companies printing and distributing their work. It was a great idea, and with the boom of the eReader, it looked like authors might have a cheap alternative to buying their way into the publication business and a quicker way to get their works into the hands of readers by side-stepping the publishing houses and agents altogether. Gone were the days of having to wait a year or longer after your book was finished before it finally hit readers.

It did not take long for Amazon to realize they could do this very same thing for their popular Kindle reader, adding fuel to the already exploding self-publishing industry. So now everyone who has ever thought about being a writer has all the convenient tools at their disposal to become an instantly published author, usually in a matter of minutes. And therein lies one of the many problems with the publishing industry as a whole.

Anyone who does much reading knows that they have come across more than their fair share of really bad books. There have been so many cringe-worthy books published by traditional publishing houses that it’s laughable. How many times have you read a book and wondered how on earth the author ever managed to get such a badly written piece of crap into publication? Being traditionally published did not automatically mean that you were a good writer. Even being on any Best Seller list doesn’t mean much in this day and age as anyone with enough money and pull can buy their way onto those lists. But it did make readers feel better about their choices in authors, at least giving them the “appearance” of being good because, after all, publishers had to sift through thousands of writers and tens of thousands of manuscripts to pick the ones that eventually became published pieces. If this was the scum that rose to the top of the pile, what must all the rejects be like, right? Well, not exactly, but it did at least give the façade that the publishing houses were only after the best of the best, or the best of what they thought they could make a buck off of.

Now imagine that all those boundaries have come crashing down. You no longer have anyone looking through manuscripts trying to find the next big thing. There are no longer gate keepers to the publishing world keeping out the no talent hacks. These days, anyone who has ever had the thought of writing a novel or short story pop into their minds can now be a published author. And all of those wannabes are coming out of the woodworks by the thousands. Whereas the industry used to see a few new books added to the shelves each month, thanks to DIY publishing, the market is being positively flooded with novels and stories each and every hour. The argument was that making self-publishing an easy-access tool would make it easier for great writers who had only known rejection from traditional publishers to now be able to quickly publish their works without any upfront costs (unless they opted for add-on packages such as editors, cover artists, promotional packages, etc). Only that is not what has happened. It is not easier for great writers to get their works in the hands of eager readers, but has made it harder for those authors to get their names out there because it has become easier for no talent hacks to publish their junk on Amazon and then force unsuspecting readers to swim through all that crap just to find a decent book. The ease of self-publishing has been counter-productive by flooding the market with far too many books and authors. It’s a simple economic fact of supply and demand. When you have way more supply than demand, it makes it even harder for an author to make any type of sales when they now have to compete with not only the traditionally published authors, but the thousands upon thousands of ghetto writers who have slapped their works up for sale on DIY pubbing sites. In simple terms, Amazon has now become the dumping ground for any all writers to toss out their creations, be they good or bad. And according to the hundreds of unsatisfied readers who are taking their voices to the internet, it would appear that the bad writers are outweighing the good ones ten to one.

Compounding the problem is all the writers who are coercing their family and friends to write dozens upon dozens of 5 star reviews and all the bloggers wanting to ride the self pubbing authors’ coattails in an attempt to cash in on their “fame” by writing glowing reviews on their blogs. It makes it twice as hard for readers to be able to tell if a book is legitimately well written and appealing because the reviews are no longer unbiased helpers in their quest for the next great story. So then the question arises, has the self-pubbing wave really helped the dire situation of really great authors sinking to the bottom of the pile while publicity stunts, false reviews, and paid ratings from hack writers are rising to the top of the Amazon best-selling list?

As if the overwhelming task of trying to be your own PR person, publishing house, literary agent, and marketing manager was not enough, seeing the overwhelming odds of making it even in the self-pubbing industry is enough to make any writer want to toss in the towel before they even get started. And where do you start on this journey anyway? Sure, writers can write, but for those inexperienced in formatting, graphic artwork, and editing, trying to do all of that work themselves just seems like it might be a bit more difficult than trying to get published the traditional way. Many of them are turning to the hundreds of agents, indie publishing houses, cover artists, and editing service providers that have sprung up since the whole self-pubbing movement began. This, of course, leads to many authors being taken for hundreds and even thousands of dollars for services they have either not received, services that were less than satisfactory, broken promises of publicity and recognition, and instances of their copyrighted works being stolen and sold. It’s a breeding ground for corruption and scams since there is no one holding the ‘companies’ accountable. It is fanning the flames of an already out of control problem that is causing many writers countless dollars and sleepless nights.

On the opposite end of this spectrum are those writers who are hitting the best-selling list on such self-pubbing sites as Amazon and Barns & Noble. And while thousands of great writers can only dream of being a best seller on any list, it would appear that hitting this list is not all it is cracked up to be. With these sites taking as much as 70% of the royalties off of each sale, just being on the best sellers list does not translate into cash in the pockets of writers. Many writers are reporting that while they are selling thousands of copies, the take home pay is pennies on the dollar. When subtracting all the overhead that comes with paying for professional editing services, cover artists, paid advertising, cost of website upkeep and all the time invested, the actual profit on these sales are down right minuscule. And again the sheer number of writers hitting the market and the volume of new material available is causing writers to have to mark their creations at ridiculously low costs. Some are even being forced to go so far as to give copies of their ebooks away in a desperate attempt to drum up readers and interest. And that, of course, presents a whole new set of problems on its own that goes back to there being too many writers and novels and not nearly enough interest, readers, and buying customers to economically support everyone. Then you have to take into consideration the return policy of Kindle books. With Amazon allowing returns, many authors are seeing their already drastically under-priced works being returned by readers by the dozens.

Let’s take into consideration how much profit an author can actually make from a single copy of an ebook. While self-publishing companies like Amazon allow a writer to control how much their product is sold for, they are taking as much as 70% of the profits. Breaking down the math, a $.99 book only garnishes a writer $.29. A writer would have to sell 4 copies to make $1 profit. That means that a writer would need to sell 100,000 copies every year just to make the medial income of $25K per year. And if the writer had overhead costs of graphic artists for covers and book trailers, editors, and paid advertising, it is possible for nearly every penny of that profit to go back into the process of getting the book out to the masses. And while some authors are reporting such sales, again, those are the exceptions to the rule. 99% of writers are not going to see more than a few thousand copies sold each year.

So this leaves authors with the question of whether or not it is worth it to their careers to try the self-pubbing route or to just stick with traditional publishing routes. As with any decision, it ultimately comes down to each individual author having to decide if they have the creativity and/or financial means to handle self-pubbing. It is simply not a yes or no question. There are pros and cons for each route, and what may be a pro for one author will most certainly be a con for another. Making the decision should be based off of well researched data and what each author is willing to invest, both financially and time, and not make a decision based off of what other authors are claiming or reporting. If you are willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort into any publishing route, then make sure you are choosing correctly for yourself, and never be afraid to change your mind.