Publishers, We Need to Talk

There are very few things in life that make my blood boil more than someone tearing down the industry I work in with false accusations of collusion, underhandedness, and evil doing. So when I see a headline like ‘Why Book Publishers Hate Authors‘ in the Huffington Post, it’s all I can do to stop myself from going into a blind rage and throwing my computer into the ocean, finding the nearest rocket, and blasting myself into the face of the sun. Because what the hell, guys.

I’m not going to go into why the article is wrong, because that really doesn’t matter. It is wrong, as all of us in publishing know. There’s no conspiracy to drive down advances, there’s just a changing market. But what this highlights to me is something way worse than simply a couple of incorrect facts and conclusions that don’t reflect reality. This is a prime example of what publishers suck at, which is talking to people outside the industry about the industry. And when other people go out of their way to do it for us, it becomes really, really necessary to start talking about what we do.

I’ve tried to find examples of publishers blogging about the industry. There are quite a few, like Melville House, Futurebook, and here on Book Machine as well. But these are industry channels. It’s pretty rare for us to be in the mainstream press in a way that isn’t a) defensive or b) based around sales/industry statistics. These are helpful, to a point, but don’t really explain changes that authors are noticing in various areas before authors go on the attack.

One example of non-industry facing coverage comes in the form of the Life In Publishing Tumblr, which has popped up in the last few weeks and seems intent on making us seem vapid, shallow, boring, and critical or sarcastic about everything our authors do. This is the state of things. Personally, if I were an author and I thought this was the way publishers talked about me behind my back, I’d assume everything they did was to wring the most amount of money out of my shrivelled carcass as well.

Someone on Twitter told me they tend to go to the Absolute Write forum and talk with authors about what publishers are doing and why. This is the sort of channel we should be covering – helping instill trust and understanding in authors, both current and prospective, about the way our business is run and why we do the things we do.

Our public image consists of not much. Our authors may try to disassociate themselves from us in public, like we’re the embarrassing parents wearing lyrca at the school gates, which we really sort of are. We can’t pretend to be cool in the same way they are, because we’re organisations not individuals, and our job is to sell them and not ourselves. But there’s a problem here and it can’t be remedied by simply being good at our jobs.

If we stay silent, people will assume we have something to hide. If we only speak in our own defence, our voices will be far too quiet and come far too late. I don’t know where the right channels for this are, but we need to find a way to discuss the changes that are happening that affect our jobs and authors generally before they become a point of contention. As soon as popular opinion reaches a point where in authors’ minds we’re the thing preventing them from making money, we’re screwed. More screwed than if Amazon bought Penguin.

Any suggestions welcome.

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  1. Hi Felice,

    I’m an author who likes publishing people 🙂 and I’m not even “traditionally” published, but I can totally see the problem & I meet authors every day who are bitter and twisted about publishers and publishing. I’m very pro publishing in all its forms and want to see this industry grow and expand during this time of flux (I even go to Waterstones to buy Kindle books now!)

    The main problem is humanizing publishing – and author’s perceptions will change if they actually meet the people who say they care, and then they see that in action. I attended FutureBook in London last year, and will be there again this year – and that’s where my opinion of the publishing industry changed – where I actually met some amazing people who were positive and upbeat, instead of down on everything digital and indie.

    I try to encourage authors to see the positives in the hybrid model, where we can work together, and I’d like to see publishers and agents want to meet in the middle too – to empower authors with a career that embraces BOTH traditional and indie. But in the UK, many publishers and agents are still set against this idea – it’s even in contracts (the do not compete clause).

    I enjoy the pieces you write, and I’d love to see you write about that contractual clause, because that does actually prevent authors from making money.

    Thanks for your thoughts. Joanna

    1. Hi Joanna. Totally agree that humanising publishing is a massive part of the issue/struggle. I think the onus is on the publishers to do this, because not every author will go out of their way to see what publishers are actually doing/saying like you have.

      As I don’t work in editorial/contracts, it’s hard for me to comment on specific contractual clauses. I guess the only thing I can say for sure about publishing is that from the outside, we do stuff that seems counter-intuitive/detrimental. When I was outside (not as an author but as an observer) I had a lot of preconceptions about the way publishing houses work, not all of them favourable.

      Now, working for one, I can see how everything we do is genuinely intended to benefit the author and help grow a diverse reading culture. There are so many examples I can give of this, but ultimately those people who say it’s all about money have never worked in publishing, or they would know the incredible excitement we all get when there’s a fantastic manuscript at acquisitions stage.

      I know that’s a bit of a cop out re: contracts. I guess what I would say is that authors will always work differently and need different things. What’s protection for one (DRM) is inhibiting to another. These sorts of issues will always be contentious but decisions aren’t made out of malice or ignorance. Anyway, I’ll see if I can dig up someone who knows more about contractual gubbins.

    2. Hi Joanna,

      I’m a publisher – I think you’d be surprised how liberal an interpretation most publishers will give the competition clause. Of course some publishers are idiots about it, but for the most part our main concern is only about authors doing a book in DIRECT competition to ours (eg at the same time on the exact same subject) and beyond that we mostly accept that authors have to make money somehow. But taking that clause out would leave us theoretically open to someone taking the advance and then publishing a slightly different book online the week before our pub date, which wouldn’t be very good business sense.

      Most things in publishing contracts are just about common sense and guarding against unlikely problems – most of the clauses are never enacted even in situations where a legalistic pedant could argue they could be. So maybe the best plan is to not take competition clauses too seriously?

      1. /So maybe the best plan is to not take competition clauses too seriously?/

        I have to admit that this sentence irritates me and I suspect it’s one of the reasons authors have such a ‘good’ impression of the trade publishers. What if a merger or a takeover happens and the law department of a new firm takes the competition clause very serious? Then what?
        Publishing is business and all the clauses in the contracts are mandatory after one signs the dotted line, even the competition clause.

        1. OK, I accept that “don’t take it too seriously” is a bit of a casual statement.

          1) Which, if that clause is upsetting you, leaves two choices. Negotiate, and negotiate hard on that clause. Make it as specific and time-limited as you possibly can in order to make sure it doesn’t close too many doors. And don’t sign that contract if you really can’t get a competition clause you are happy with. Contracts aren’t written in stone, whatever people might pretend, and if you have specific concerns then address them in the negotiation process.

          2) If you want to publish something else then make sure the publisher is aware of it from the start and accepts in writing that it won’t contravene the competition clause.

          But I’d still say it’s really not something to get too worked up about. If an author of mine wants to publish an ebook on the exact same subject the week before I print 5000 copies, or within a month or so then yes, I might enforce that clause, and I think I would have every right to, since we have invested time and money in the project we are publishing. But if it is a different project, then why would I give a damn? I want them to make money, there’s no reason for me to try and stop them.

          Contracts are there to cover every possible thing that might go wrong. So for instance, there is a clause in our contract where I can pay another writer to finish your book and charge the author’s standard account for the work. OUTRAGEOUS!!! But actually the only conceivable scenario that would happen in is if a non-fiction book is nearly but not quite finished and the author point blank refuses to do the work. even then, I’d probably just can the book rather than interfere that way. But yes, you do need legal cover for the most extreme, bizarre scenarios, just in case, just like authors need clauses in their contracts that cover things like the publisher not getting round to publishing the book, or not reverting it even though it is not in print and so on.

          Incidentally I’m an author too and don’t see any problem with the competition clauses I’ve signed from that side of the aisle.

          1. “But yes, you do need legal cover for the most extreme, bizarre scenarios, just in case,”

            One person’s extreme and bizarre scenario is another person’s needing to make quarterly numbers. This is, essentially, the argument to “trust me.” If we trust each other why do we need a contract at all? How about I just verbally assure you that if I get reasonable checks from you, I won’t sue you for copyright infringement for publishing my book? We’re all friends here, yes?

          2. The trouble with most clauses in publishing contract (the one that I saw) is that they are ambiguous and that contract have clauses that
            amend clauses.

            The main problem for me is the attitude, ‘don’t worry your little head about it, we won’t enforce it anyway,’ which wasn’t a case with the non-competition clause with Penguin not
            long ago was it? And if I remember correctly it was about self-published short story collection they have rejected a while back.

            The long contracts with ambiguous content and the general attitude ‘don’t worry your little head about it’ are insulting to me. IMO If publishers had any kind of decency that would have specify the clauses in the first draft of the contract and make contracts easy understandable, not trying to sneak in clauses harmful for writer’s career. I would have never work with a business partner who would
            show me that kind of contempt. It’s good that I’m not interested in traditional publishing, but unfortunately I have friends who are, and who with stares in their eyes would sign anything. So I celebrate that that authors are finally talking out loud about the horrors that they have encounter in their dealings with publishers and agents.

      2. If it’s on a signed contract, then ALL parties, including the author shoule remember that it CAN be enforced. It’s that paternalistic “yes it’s in there but let’s not take it seriously” thing that comes back to bite folks in the keister. If you’re not going to take it seriously, then take it out of the contract. That’s one of the big things that’s changing that publishers are Just.Not.Getting. Authors no longer have to sign egregious contracts just to be published. Authors have greater access than ever to resources that point out the snakes and the quicksand in the contracts (no compete clauses, reversions of rights, basket accounting, option clauses, agency clauses, etc.) And it’s that “pooh pooh don’t you worry your pretty little head about that big bad no compete clause” response that ticks off authors. You still seem to view us as flighty artsy-fartsy types instead of grown up professional business people.

      3. That noise you all just heard in the background was hundreds of IP attorneys whipping their heads around and muttering, “I sense a grave and stupid disturbance in the Force.”

        Maybe the best thing would be to put the terms you mean to enforce in the contract and leave out the ones you don’t.

        No? Gee, I wonder why it’s in there then…

        You don’t enforce those clauses when you could because it’s not worth it. When it’s worth it, you do. That’s how this game is played. However, the dirty little secret in contracts like this is that MultMegaUberPublisher can send a letter to J. Random Author screaming about the noncompete and J. Random backs down sobbing for mercy even if MMUP knows that a) the noncompete would be way too much trouble to actually enforce even if b) no court would uphold it anyway. I’ll grant you it might not be in there because you expect to actually enforce it often, but you don’t mention the scare value. And even if you don’t think it has any scare value, I guarantee you your legal department does.

        1. “Maybe the best thing would be to put the terms you mean to enforce in the contract and leave out the ones you don’t.”

          And just to come back to this – this is a bit of an absurd statement. There are loads of clauses in any contract that won’t get enforced – mostly to do with the failure of one party or the other to behave appropriately – because so long as both parties do things the right way, those clauses will never be needed. Apart from the basic stuff like royalty rates (which you should also negotiate hard on) and rights splits etc most of the clauses in a publishing contract are there to cover you for the stuff you hope doesn’t happen.

          If I pay someone an advance to write a book on Medieval Balustrades I pretty much trust that they won’t mess me about by separately publishing “Balustrades of the Middle Ages” on Kindle at the same time. But this is a business so “pretty much trusting them” isn’t good enough. So we have a competition clause to cover the thing we trust won’t happen, just in case.

          If on the other hand they go and publish “Mr Darcy’s Cupcake Mystery” or a book about Russian Vodka at the same time, I don’t really care. And I doubt our competition clause would even apply because the language is fairly specific.

          1. “But this is a business so “pretty much trusting them” isn’t good enough.”

            Irony shields overloading, Cap’n… I canna hold ‘er!

            Sorry. I was channeling. It happens.

            If *your* noncompete is specific and fair, good for you. Would you care to publish it and distinguish it from industry standards? Because we aren’t talking about *your* noncompete at the moment, we’re talking about a more or less generic one. If you feel that yours redeems the practice, by all means let’s see it.

          2. Marc,

            I can’t help thinking you are proceeding from kneejerk assumptions here. I already accepted you’re right to say I was a bit blase in the first post. That’s why I modified my original position to “Don’t trust me – make sure you negotiate a competition clause you are happy with or if you have other plans get it in writing that they don’t infringe the competition clause before you sign up.”

            But beyond that, I really don’t see anything theoretically wrong with a non-compete clause in the first place. If I (as a publisher) invest time and money in a project, I don’t want the author running off and setting up something in competition that undermines me. Should I really not be expected to make that clear in our legal agreement? And as an author I wouldn’t expect to be given that latitude either, though I did get the competition clause time-limited in the last writing contract I signed, in case of one of those bizarre extreme scenarios I mentioned, like the publisher giving a damn if I write a book for someone else.

            So if competition clauses upset you, either don’t sign a contract with them in, or negotiate for the exact issue that you feel it may raise. But for me this is for the most part a phantom problem because any serious issues it raises can be sorted out reasonably in the contract negotation. If anyone wants to give me an example of how they have been oppressed by a competition clause I’d be interested to hear it. The only time I ever saw it invoked was when a smaller publisher asked us (a mid-size publisher) not to get their author to write a book to come out just after theirs. It was on a slightly different subject so I thought they were being silly, but we all talked it over as adults and in the end we gave them a reasonable breathing space, then published, and everyone was happy.

            Writers seem to imagine publishers as these weird places where IP lawyers and accountants are bursting out of every cupboard trying to find ways to screw the author. I liked your reference to “our legal department” earlier. We don’t actually have one, the only time we use even an external lawyer is for libel checks.

            I do accept publishers have plenty of faults and don’t always do the best by authors, incidentally. But I think you are far more likely to get ripped off by a badly negotiated royalty schedule or have our sales and marketing team screw up your book than to be stymied by a competition clause.

          3. I am fine with noncompetition agreements. At a rough guess I have negotiated somewhere between three and five hundred of them.

            And, to be perfectly fair, if I hand somebody my noncompete and they sign it as is, I don’t go out of my way to say, “Hey, that’s negotiable, you know. You want any changes?”

            But the point is that you still don’t seem to want to admit that ALL contractual clauses are important. You’re minimizing your employer’s legal scariness, you’re using language designed to imply that I’m being paranoid and that these things Just Don’t Happen. (And you’re doing it very well. I said you *said* something stupid. I didn’t say you *were* stupid.)

            The boilerplate defense is iffy in this case as well. You don’t have a legal department. Well and good. Who reviews your contracts periodically to ensure they are still in compliance with applicable law and regulation as well as current industry practice? Who makes the decisions when somebody does want to negotiate new language? Who decides when and how to enforce contractual clauses and/or defend allegations of breach? If none of this is done by lawyers, it might make you seem friendlier, but it really just makes it *more* likely that things will go totally pear-shaped in the event of a later dispute. There is nothing more intransigent than a layperson convinced that their interpretation of a contract is correct and that the other person’s interpretation must therefore just be wrong. That way lies the current situation where both sides are convinced that the other is just being unreasonable/mean/deceptive/a big whiner.

          4. OK, I’ll try to start by saying something we can agree on:

            1 I did say a slightly stupid casual thing, mea culpa.

            2 Lots of stuff in contracts doesn’t ever get invoked. BUT you’re right, all contract clauses have the potential to become important, so if you have concerns with them it is worth taking them seriously even if the chances are that they will never be invoked.

            On a few questions:

            “Who reviews your contracts periodically?” We did pay a lawyer to review it about five years ago and we changed a few words, but the basic legal situation doesn’t change terribly fast.

            “Who makes the decisions when somebody does want to negotiate new language?” The editor negotiates it but the MD approves. It’s pretty simple but dull. Contracts aren’t rocket science as I’m sure you know and there is almost always a precedent somewhere in the files if you take a whlie to search them.

            “Who decides when and how to enforce contractual clauses and/or defend allegations of breach?” This kind of stuff happens incredibly rarely. If we really needed a lawyer, we’d get one, but it hardly ever happens.

            “If none of this is done by lawyers, it might make you seem friendlier, but it really just makes it *more* likely that things will go totally pear-shaped in the event of a later dispute. ”

            Alternatively it just means we don’t take it all uber-seriously and get stressed about it. I accept not all publishers are like that though.

            “There is nothing more intransigent than a layperson convinced that their interpretation of a contract is correct and that the other person’s interpretation must therefore just be wrong.” Interesting point – I actually had an anxious author call me once to check a project he was
            working on didn’t count as breaching his competition clause. I reassured
            him but also advised him that contacting a publisher to ask that kind of
            question could backfire – though I think it would honestly be more likely to go wrong because someone legally uncertain didn’t have the confidence to say “no, that’s fine” in writing as most people in publishing have no real training and there are some whose main concern is to avoid being blamed for anything.

            That was the other thing I was thinking about when I said “don’t take the competition clause too seriously” – I also meant, don’t give your publisher any choice in the matter if you can help it, even if you have a competition clause. A bit cavalier maybe but as an author that would be my strategy – just do it and tell them to get lost if they start whinging. Most publishers don’t really want to get caught sueing their authors, look at the flak Penguin got for asking for those advances back the other week.

          5. Incidentally, the “boilerplate defense” isn’t intended so much as a defense as an explanation. I use the standard contract if I can to avoid hassle. I could sit down and write a first draft that only incorporates the bits that are obviously relevant to this particular book, I could go over every clause and make it absolutely specific (for instance amend the competition clause with a schedule of the kinds of projects I would regard as competition). But I have fifty other things to do today and I know that you the author can negotiate on anything that bothers you, so I just send the standard one, with the name, title, advance, rights, etc amended. Then it’s up to the author or agent to tell me to get rid of the stuff that bothers them, and up to me to decide whether or not I can comply.

      4. If that’s what you’re trying to guard against, why not write the competition clause to say that you can’t publish a book on the exact same subject at the same time? Why write a broad clause restricting publication? If this is about “common sense,” write what you’re guarding against.

        I know actual people who have actually had their publishers object to books that were not on the same subject nor were they published at the same time.

        This doesn’t pass either the experience or the smell test. It might be what YOU as a publisher think, but not all publishers think alike, and there are no guarantees that YOU the individual will be the one enforcing the clause.

        1. Yes, I accept that, which is why I have also recommended that you make sure you are happy with the competition clause. People are talking here as though the competition clause is handed down by Moses – it is up for sensible negotation like everything else in the standard contract. And if the two sides in the deal can’t agree, don’t sign the contract.

          I can imagine a few publishers being stupid enough to object to a writer doing other books, though I’d genuinely be surprised if it was a completely different subject or separated by more than a few months. If there was some kind of first refusal or option in the contract, then maybe I can see it.

          Anyway, I guess the point it that what I was saying about what contracts are for applies both ways – a writer may pretty much trust that the publisher won’t be an idiot but the only real protection is to make sure that you are 100% happy with the competition clause or have it struck out if you have plans to do anything that could be taken to be competition.

          1. Thalia, just want to say thanks for sticking with this, both here and elsewhere. I would buy you a beer if I could, or stronger. If I ever can, let me know.

          2. Thanks Felice, I was a bit worried I’d betrayed your basic intention by coming across as a bit of an arse. But I think it’s an interesting conversation and some of the stuff I’ve heard has opened my eyes to bad practises from publishers, even at the the same time as I am defending the basic contractual stuff.

      5. “So maybe the best plan is to not take competition clauses too seriously?”

        Since a publishing contract is a legally binding document which endures for years, I have a MUCH BETTER plan than your recommendation that the author sign bad clauses: ELIMINATE the non-compete clauses in your publishing contracts.

        For example, NONE of my current contracts have nonc-compete clauses in them. At all. In any form. (And my option clauses are very narrow and eminently reasonable.)

        All of my current contracts are with DAW Books, a 50-year-old sf/f house with very broad distribution, NYT bestsellers, Hugo and World Fantasy Award winners, etc. IOW, this is a major, well-established, competitive commercial publishing program… And my contracts with them DO NOT HAVE non-compete clauses.

        So how about THAT as a better plan the a publisher recommending that the author SIGN A BAD CLAUSE IN A LEGALLY BINDING CONTRACT… because an employee at the publishing house verbally suggests that bad clause won’t (or might not be) enforced.

        1. Laura, yes, I already accepted in several posts my original comment was too blase and modified my advice to say “don’t sign a competition clause you’re not totally happy with.” What I really meant was that I can’t really see what the fuss is as it so rarely an issue and contracts are negotiable anyway. Personally as a writer I have no issuse signing them, but I do get fussy about other details of contracts that I know will be significant like reduced royalties on high discounts.

          But you’re an example of the other thing I was saying which is that it is wrong to regard competition clauses as set in stone or to see contract negotation as a one way process with the publisher holding all the aces. You’ve done the exact right thing for you which is to make sure you don’t have competition clauses.

          I’ve struck competition clauses a few times when I’ve been asked and there was no reason not to. A couple of people above have commented along the lines of “why have broad vague clauses in the first place”. The answer is really simple. Publishers get a standard contract drawn up to cover all kinds of books – doing new contracts is deathly boring, so our first draft will be the one that (for instance) makes a cookbook author warranty that they aren’t libelling anyone or using obscene language – a catch-all version. You don’t want to sit down and write a taylor-made contract for each author if you can help it. BUT there are all kinds of things in there that can be dispensed with if need be.

          Having said that there are some projects for which I wouldn’t give up the competition clause without a fight – if I spent tens of thousands on a big trophy book with a specialist in the field, I would want to be damn sure they weren’t going to knock one out for a competitor at the same time – in that case however I’d accept a time-limited version, or a subject-limited one if pressed.

  2. I attended a Publishing Trade Day in Dublin on Friday (part of the Dublin Book Festival) and was struck by how out of touch “legacy” publishers are about the benefits of self-publishing to authors. The publishers who spoke (one of whom was a digital-only publisher) seem to have this perception that they are the only ones who offer professional services, and are blinkered in the view that authors are unwilling to pay hard-earned cash to fund their self-publishing projects.

    Publishers grossly underestimate the new entrepreneurial, professional self-publisher. They should get out to a few self-publishing conferences and listen to what authors are saying. If authors can buy in editorial services and cover design, do their own marketing and distribution, and take higher royalties for their efforts, publishers need to bring something else to the table – perhaps find a way to bridge the gap between the commercial needs of a business and the very human aspirations of authors.

    1. First, can we leave the term ‘legacy’ publishers at the door, even when encased in scare quotes? It’s deeply annoying. Thanks!

      I am often struck by how out of touch self-publishers are about the benefits of trade publishing to authors. The self-publishers I read online seem to have this perception that they are the only ones who understand the internet, and are blinkered by the view that publishers don’t actually do anything worthwhile.

      No publisher I’ve ever spoken to is unaware of the existence of freelance publishing services. Many of us have worked as freelance editors or designers or publicists, and many of us hire them on a daily basis. As publishers, though, we have the distinct economic advantage of being able to buy these services much more cheaply and with greater confidence than a self-publisher can manage – permanent staff, economies of scale, etc.

      As an author with a trade publisher, you don’t have to source any of those professionals yourself, and you don’t have to pay any money out of your own pocket to get them. Please understand: we know that many authors are happy to pay to fund their own publishing projects. We’re here for anyone who doesn’t want the expense or the bother. In fact, we’ll pay you a non-returnable advance, and take on all the risk ourselves.

      Of course you’ll get less in the way of royalties. That’s the salient feature of the partnership – we take all the risk, up-front, and take a higher share of the back end. In fact, once you’ve deducted all the expenses of publishing the book – at rates which are cheaper than any one-man-band could get – we take home about the same amount of profit as the author.

      Ask Amanda Hocking. She doesn’t want to do all that work any more. She’d rather just write.

      Self-publishing in ebook is, these days, a perfectly viable alternative, but it’s not, in my opinion, an upgrade, or the meteor collapsing the sky on to our poor little walnut-sized dino-brains. It’s something else you can do if you want.

      1. Amanda Hocking is a shrewd author; she’s spreading her bets. She hasn’t gone over to traditional publishing. For anyone as prolific as she is, it makes sense to have three legs to your stool: indie, legacy and Amazon.

        Given that the publishing industry would not exist without writers, it’s astonishing how poorly they are paid. Authors on average earn less than anyone else involved in the production of books. And modern publishing contracts are extraordinarily biased in favour of the publisher.

        1. Actually though, authors have the least amount of skin in the game too, in traditional publishing.

          When a book fails to resonate with the marketplace, the publisher bears the cost of returns, production, and marketing for example. Never does the publisher come back to the author and say, your book didn’t sell, you owe me $5,000. It is only after years does the publisher come back to an author to recover advance paid versus no book delivered.

          As far as an author not being paid well, it depends on how much you produce. Working for a publisher I have handled up to 150 books a year. I produce, I get paid. It’s a really novel concept. If you think it’s better pay being at the publishing house than being an author, work the 16-18 hours a day with constant pressure of being downsized in a merger or if the titles you work on don’t perform well in sales and reprint like the Dickens.

    2. Hi Averill. Thanks for your comment. I agree with Iucouno in that I think traditional publishers are generally pretty switched on about what self-published authors are doing and are in fact quite dynamic themselves. But the fact you don’t think so suggests we’re not doing a great job of communicating that, and also maybe that our detractors are doing a pretty good job of detracting.

      Equally, I don’t think publishers are going to go to a conference and tell authors they’re better off doing it on their own, right, particularly when this isn’t necessarily the case.

      It’s difficult to understand the other side of the story when neither of us have lived it, but I think learning to challenge the assumption that there’s a right way of publishing (that publishers can never understand an authors’ needs, that self-publishing can never work etc) would probably help.

      1. Iuconnu: I used the term “legacy” in scare quotes because that’s the word the publishers at the event used to described themselves. I know it’s a contentious term.

        My comments were about the perceptions of the publishers at this particular event – perhaps it’s just Irish publishers that get defensive when discussing self-publishers.

        Like MrsE, I personally take the middle ground. I work as a freelance editor and proofreader, and work for both publishers and indie authors. I go to events for publishers, writers and self-publishers to get any many different perspectives as I can.

    3. I would like to comment from the middle ground; I work for a design studio whose main clients are large publishing houses, but we do also support a couple of clients who self publish.
      Whilst there seem to be many pros and cons to both approaches personally I do feel it is worth waiting a little longer before going it alone, in particular with e-book publishing. Like any new media, it seems to pay to let other people test the water before you dive in head first. We have had many self publishers come to us having already lost a fair bit of money due to bad choices based on incorrect advice (particularly when it comes to the typesetting and design). Publishers have a tried and tested system, they benefit from a large buying power (making them better at negotiating on your behalf) and they obviously have much bigger and better marketing capabilities. All of the large publishers we work for I have found to be incredibly forward thinking and happy to embrace and champion new media, they are certainly not afraid of it, as nobody wants to be the next Kodak.
      I can sympathise with the fear of going with a publisher, it would feel a bit like giving your baby to Tesco, but having bought and read a few self published books on Kindle (and wept over the poor grammar and spelling) Im sure if you meet with them face to face and negotiate enough control it has got to be the better way forward?
      Maybe the BookMachine hosts (publishers) should start inviting their clients (authors) along? The events are brilliant ice breakers and I find it always helps to know (and like) the people I work with.

      1. “Like any new media, it seems to pay to let other people test the water before you dive in head first.”

        Seriously? To Tradpub, yes, indie-publishing in its non-PublishAmerica form is relatively new. But it’s been here for years. Thousands and thousands of people have made millions and millions of dollars at it. This isn’t that new-fangled auto-MObeel you may have heard the liveryman laughing at.

  3. On the original post, it’s tricky. If you put up a hidden camera in my office, you could certainly catch us saying some bad things about authors, though partly tongue in cheek. (“Life would be so much easier without ****ing authors” being a quote from earlier today.)

    But beyond the schtick, we know we rely on our authors and for the most part we like them personally as well. We start out from the same point as them which is a love of books (and for all our cynicism at times, I don’t know anyone in publishing who doesn’t have a genuine love of good books). We might be having to scrub along doing some books we aren’t that proud of to survive and we might be a bit jealous of any author who can actually sit at home writing (while forgetting how many of them aren’t actually earning that much from their books). Meanwhile we can easily come across as contemptuous or cynical when dealing with authors. There are also some writers and others who are so fixed in seeing us as “the gatekeepers” or corporate bastards that they will never view us as normal people. So not sure if there is much that can be done.

    My modest suggestion would be to try to channel everyone’s energy into hating agents instead. After all, life would indeed be so much easier without ****ing agents…

  4. ” There’s no conspiracy to drive down advances, there’s just a changing market.”
    So in a market where ebook sales are growing while paperback and hardcover sales are falling, nearly industry-wide contract amendments to cut authors’ e-royalties from 50% to 25% is good for authors…how? This sort of move, along with unconsionable contracts are only a few among so many authors believe the publishing industry holds them in contempt.

    1. Hi Bridget. I was referring specifically to advances rather than royalties in the above statement, which is I think what the author of that Publishers Hate Authors piece took issue with.

  5. ” our job is to sell them and not ourselves.”

    There’s a lot of sense in this post, and I know it’s something that you feel very strongly about, but this is the biggest mistake publishers can make now. In a metadata-driven world, brand is all-important; sure artists are a brand that need to be sold but so do publishers. Think about TV, how many television studios make sure that their ident is up first on a broadcast, or Film where everybody who had anything to do with the film is listed, to a grandiose track at the beginning and end of the production. We have to sell ourselves as publishers, otherwise it’s easy for people looking from the outside in to ask ‘what is it that you do other than drink the profits over exotic lunches that linger long into the evening?’

    So, perhaps this line might be more appropriately ‘our job is to sell them and ourselves, the job of the author is to sell themselves too’ (… and if you know a decent editor then let them loose here)

  6. I’ve been a full-time, self-supporting career novelist for 24 years, have sold about 30 genre novels and have worked with about 10 publishers. In all that time, I’ve only ever encountered or dealt with one (1)–ONE–that did -not- treat me like a diseased streetwalker.

    Happily, it’s my current publisher. Unlike EVERY other house I’ve dealt with in my full-time writing career spanning a little more than two decades, this house–DAW Books–treats me like a valued asset and a valued professional partner. After many years of being a full-time writers dealing with publishers, this experience has been BRAND NEW to me.

    I am a longtime member of two national organizations for professional writers, have been a columnist for both of these orgs, and am a past president of one of them. Based on many years of interaction with others in my profession, one of the things I learn over and over and over again is that my current experience–of being treated like a respected professional colleague by my publisher–is unusual, and that my consistent previous experiences for years, of being treated like a scab-ridden streetwalker by my various publishers, was all too common.

    So speaking as a long time professional in this arena, I’d say EXPERIENCE, rather than perception, is what most writers tend to have against most publishers.

    **NOTE: I’ve worked with some excellent editors (as well as a few very bad ones). But editors, in my experience, aren’t able to mitigate the negative effect of the publisher’s attitude.

    1. Surely, though, if DAW books had been more vocal about their relationship with other authors and public about their policies it may have saved you some grief? You could have perhaps been paired sooner?

  7. Oh, the POOR publishers having to deal with the nitwits from “outside the industry”: WRITERS who… you know. Produce the product you sell. And you give authors such fair and magnanimous contracts too! You’re just SO kind. And about that bridge you are selling as well… No, thanks.

    1. Jeanne, I did not use the term nitwits, neither did I mean to imply it, so if that came across I apologise. By ‘outside the industry’ I was referring to journalists in mainstream media and people who don’t work for publishing houses.

      The post was essentially trying to point out, without any sort of judgment attached to an author’s role or the relationship between authors and publishers, that publishers need to communicate better. With everyone. And be more proactive in doing so.

  8. Just one more thought on this:

    I hadn’t heard about the Kiana Davenport case so I’ve done some reading this morning. Firstly I’m gobsmacked by Penguin’s idiocy in the way they handled the situation, and won’t defend it in the slightest. That certainly gave me pause for thought. I think this blog has some good advice for those who are concerned about the issue:

    But I would also say that Davenport comes across as a bit naive and I’m not sure she handled the situation that well either. Nor do I think jumping from one corporate behemoth to another is necessarily the solution (Amazon really don’t care about authors either…). We’re at an interesting point for publishing where the way an author can find success is changing massively. In the past you really had to get the first publication right, and to build a buzz in the rights bits of the media and so on, or the book flopped and there were no second chances. In that situation publishers needed to be control freaks about how they managed the PR and other publications of the author’s work. And up until a couple of years ago an author being self-published could well have been something that trashed the PR side of things (it’s really only the last couple of years that that has turned around).

    Having said that, Kristine Rusch asserts in that post that if she’d signed a non-compete clause, her publisher wouldn’t have let her publish any short stories. Now, I accept that by not signing she made sure they couldn’t stop her, but I don’t agree they necessarily would have – because short story publication can clearly be something that helps to build an author’s rep before the first novel.

    So there are loads of cases where publishers don’t react as hysterically as Penguin did with the Davenport case. But what publishers probably need to do now is learn that the path to success isn’t as monolithic as it once was and that self-publishing is now part of the way to build an audience, especially for genre fiction, but increasingly it might work in other areas too.

    So my final thought – yes, do take the non-compete clause seriously. Penguin’s idiocy is enough to convince me I was wrong to say otherwise. As a publisher I would still want one in some cases, but I would accept it if the writer negotiated for it to be 1) severely time and/or subject limited 2) taken out of the warranty (it’s not in ours anyway but it seems it is in some) 3) not disguised in a first option clause or similar – for the latter I’d suggest that if a publisher won’t take it out you get a realistic time limit added.

    Thanks to all for the persuasion on this.

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