The Writing On The Wall (Are Publishers Extinct?)

A slight preamble:  These are just my thoughts, from talking with people who know, going to conferences, and reading all the multitudinous books and articles presented recently.  I’ve been asked for my opinions with regards to my own experience, and so here they are.

In talking about whether or not publishing houses and agents are going the way of the dodo, let’s discuss what it is that they do.  Honestly, what is the role they play in the life of a content creator?

First of all, the agent.  What does the agent do for you?  If you’ve picked up a book on the subject, it was probably written by an agent or an editor.  And they have a long list of reasons why you should love to have them, strive to achieve their recognition, and trust in their advice.  They edit your work, help you create, pass your work on to editors, manage contract negotiation, and keep you from going nuts.  But is that really true?  Should you trust that this is what they do.

In my opinion, yes.  Most people who get into agenting are readers first and foremost.  They read and they write, and if they’re experienced, they know who to talk to and how to do the very job they claim to do.  At least, my agent, Laurie McLean, does.  But there is a cautionary note here.  If your agent or targeted agent, is not embracing new technology and the self-publishing archetype, you need to be concerned.  This IS going to happen.  An agent who is savvy with social media is a must.  Since authors can do without them now, your agent should give you a reason to keep them.  they should be helpful.  They don’t make money unless you do.

I have heard horror storiess.  If your agent doesn’t talk to you, doesn’t follow your wishes, doesn’t have enough faith in the PRODUCT, then you need to worry.  My stuff is experimental, cross-genre, just plain weird, and instead of asking me to change it, Laurie says, “leave it.  People will get it if we push them hard enough.  It’s good as is.”  Now that being said, she has line edited me, and possible content edits are still a negotiation point I’m willing to consider with a future publisher, but Laurie trusts my vision.

Long and short.  I think an agent is a good idea.  You need a professional filter to help craft what you imagine into a work of art.  And if you can’t get an agent, you need to ask yourself if your product is where it needs to be.  There are the odd cases of people who can’t get agents because agents are afraid to touch their stuff, but those are few and far between.  You should try to get an agent, most definitely.

Now onto a publisher.  I am self-published, but this is why:

Most of the publishing houses are freaking out.  Prior to the media explosion, this is what they did– an editor would wait for a manuscript from an agent, they would yay or nay it, if they yay it, they argue on its behalf with a meeting of the high ups, if it gets the group yay, then the editor works with you to make the finished product, art is chosen (most times without your approval) and then its produced, and here’s the silly part.  They make a wager on how many copies your book will sell, this number determines how much of an advance you’re given, how many copies are printed and shipped, and how much press they give you.  (in most cases press means a blurb in a catalog, not a signing tour)  Beyond that, there is NO help.  None.  If they were wrong, then well, you don’t get a second deal.  This of course means, that the editors choosing manuscripts make their selections based upon a risk management line of thought.  They want to make money, and so they pick what they think will sell.  If you’re like me and write weird shit, well, no one will touch you, no matter how good your stuff is.

If you sell big, then they throw you a bone and maybe arrange a tour or make a book commercial, or posters or whatthehellever, but not much else.

Now lest you think me bitter or jaded, I will clarify my thoughts.  This is literally what they do, and it’s a stupid model.  Extra copies of books are destroyed and wasted, sales rely upon book stores, and no help with marketing means you are responsible for your own sales unless your stuff goes viral.  This model is dumb.

Every time a CEO of a publishing company talks about ebooks, they cited percentage of total profits they anticipate from ebooks rises, to the last quoted number of about 75% in the next few years.  The landscape is changing.  Now anyone can put their stuff up.  It’s a sea of noise.  How does a reader know what to read?  Some still look to what is published traditionally, but with everything out there, more and more people are looking to weird shit, experimental stuff that isn’t like everything else, isn’t cookie-cutter, safe, editor-picked.  Stuff that was never given a chance.  If publishers are going to be successful in this new market, then they need to embrace this.

Companies spring up every day marketing themselves as “self-publishing helpers”  They format your book for various sites, format it for POD (Print on demand) sites, and they might even market for you, but they are paid services, and take no share of your sales.

Personally, I think that the lack of costs in this style of publishing (ebook and POD) mean that publishers can take more risks.  They can sign a starving artist, pay an advance, arrange everything on behalf of the author, then take a share of profits, just as they do now.   Problem is, the only way they can make a profit this way, under my model, is to ACCEPT MORE WRITERS.

Haha.  Houses need to take on more projects in order to make money, but they’ll find their costs go down, their authors are more content, and they are still with the times.  And really, they should have more respect for the content creators anyway.

So do I think authors writing now should even bother trying to get a publisher?  Sure.  Get as many people into your work as possible; enter contests, do social media, submit submit submit, but should it be your ultimate make-or-break, throw your hands in the air goal?  Fuck no.

Hone your craft, make yourself as awesome as you can, and kick all that dust in their bloated faces until they get with the times.  If they sign you, they’ll take your money, but they might also help you, so it’s up to you to make that decision.

Personally, I’d do it, just because it would be nice to have the support, the access, the mojo, and also it’s a personal dream.  Would I do it a second time after doing it a first?  Not sure.  Agents only make money when you make money; they take it personally.  Publishers should too.  That’s what will keep authors producing and producing good stuff.

We have to live.  And pay for our energy drink addictions.

I would love to know your thoughts, and clarify my own if you’d like.  Tell me what you think.

6 comments on “The Writing On The Wall (Are Publishers Extinct?)

  1. Hi Kristina. I want to thank you for posting this. The information was helpful. As to my thoughts on the matter, I’d say I agree for the most part on what you said, though I’ll admit I’d probably still prefer traditional publishing to self publishing for my first time around if I could achieve it. The idea of it is a little less nerve racking I guess. Although whether I’ll still feel that way when I actually have to go through the submission process remains to be seen.

    • Most authors would, but it’s largely because they want to achieve a benchmark, a success. What I’ve learned is that it’s a completely made up benchmark. Their interests are skewed in a different direction, I.e. Selling books. So it isn’t about your art; it’s about the sellability. In the new age, we need to see our readers approval as all the success we need. Ad for nerve racking, true. If you don’t have cover art or an artistic sense, you’ll have to pay someone, and that can be obnoxious. I did my own covers and it was a bit of a hassle. And managing your own sales is lame, but with a traditional publisher, it’s what you’d be doing anyway.

      It helps to be an obsessive control freak with an arrogant streak, is basically what I’m saying. LOL

  2. For an ubergeek, you’re pretty cool, Kristina. Keep writing your weird shit. Obviously it’s who you are, and feels right.

    • Lol, for an ubergeek? I’ll refer you to my pie chart on my home page. Geeks are the cool nerds, socially capable and obsessive is the definition of geek. So largely, we’re all cool. And I’d like to point out that my stuff is only weird when considered in the context of a “publisher’s filter” In actuality, my stuff isn’t that weird, it’s just a risk for them. I don’t kknow, you read them and tell me if you think they’re weird.

  3. There’s room for a lot more of us now. That’s a great thing. If indie publishing makes it possible to find an audience and sustain yourself at a level that satisfies you, then you don’t really need Big Publlishing.

  4. negative ions…

    The Writing On The Wall (Are Publishers Extinct?) « The Brain Squirrel Monologues…

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