Imagine for a moment that a Big 6 publisher like Random Penguin, Simon, Garfunkel & Schuster, or Harley-Quinn comes knocking at your door. They want to add you to their select stable of published authors. You—yes, you—will now be among the anointed. All you have to do is take the deal. Just sign on the dotted line.
Don’t worry your pretty little head about the fine print. All that stuff about rights and royalties is for the lawyers to worry about. You do have an attorney versed in the specialized field of international copyright and intellectual property law don’t you? Well, never mind then. I’m sure the very reputable publishing firm had their top people go over the contract.
Let’s pull back the curtain and tell them what they’ve won, Johnny.
Congratulations! You’ve just won a no-expense paid trip to nowhere!
The publisher now owns your book. They will decide when it comes out, they will decide where and when it is distributed, displayed, and marketed. They will choose the cover. They will set the price. Even if they decide to do nothing with it, you won’t get to either.
You will get to continue doing what you have been doing all along, which is busting your hump trying to get anyone and everyone to even notice you wrote a book. Don’t expect your publisher to help with that—or setting up media contacts, appearances, book signings, interviews, anything.
Oh, and they priced your book at $24.99 because they have to make back some money for the advances and marketing budget they use for their top-tier authors. That’s not you. Of course, you’ get the same $1.22 per book (before taxes) that Stephen King gets, but his book will sell a bazillion copies even if it sucks. Yours will probably be returned by the bookstores after a month of not selling because it was sitting in boxes in the storage area.
Why do you think so many traditionally-published mid-listers and even a few top-tier authors are experimenting with going indie? Oh sure, they have advantages. Some few have a built-in following. Most have learned a lot about marketing and branding—stuff the plebes like us have to learn over the long haul and the hard way. Still, they know they are better off without the millstone of a last-century industry hanging around their necks.
That’s not to say it doesn’t flow the other way occasionally. Sure, the Big 6 are scouting the minors. Every once in a while, they’ll scoop up an Amanda Hocking—someone who’s already done the hard work to establish herself without any help from them.
Largely though, it seems what the traditional publishing houses offer is the cachet of their imprimaturs and precious little else. Their business model is from the last century and they are showing few signs of adapting. There are those who bemoan their demise. I am not among the mourners.
Right now it is tough. There are problems. Indies fight among each other while the Big 6 whisper to Joe Amazon about making the indie titles a little less obvious to the browsing public. After all, you don’t want people to think you associate with that sort, do you?
No one knows what will happen. There is no right choice to be made at this point, because the information necessary to making an informed choice is simply not there. Still, when leaving the Titanic, it is of little use to spend a lot of time inspecting the lifeboat.
Indie is the choice for me. I believe in this way. I believe in letting the reader choose, even if they do not choose me. I believe in a pricing model that returns most of the profit (when there is some) back to the creators of the work. I believe in the sense of community and mutual aid among indie authors. This will work and the bugs will work themselves out in time.
Be patient. Persevere in your writing. Learn • Share • Support. We will not only survive, but we will thrive.