Let’s Make A Deal

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.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

32 thoughts on “Let’s Make A Deal”

  1. “Still, when leaving the Titanic, it is of little use to spend a lot of time inspecting the lifeboat.”

    That says it all, EM. Excellent post.

  2. Stephen,
    Absolutely correct. I know a writer who was dumped by S&S and now he’s considering go commando publishing. I have six books in my own publishing empire and even though I get all the bills, I also get to make my own decisions. And I put out a good product and I make sure I meet the expectations of my readers. Great post. All the best and keep on slugging.

  3. There was an article in the Globe and Mail just this morning touting the merging of Authorhouse with Penguin ans Simon and Shuster, giving a level of legitimacy. What it really means, as you say, is that the big six will be taking our money to shore up their vanishing income. It can only mean more rip-offs for the naive and further obscurity for them and for us who remain truly Indie.

  4. I went indie because the timelines drove me nuts. So I’ve never had to look at a contract.
    For me, it’s important to know that you are selling your rights, so the publisher should be able to make all the decisions. Make sure you are happy with the price you are charging.
    Then know what rights you are selling. The stories that concern me are the ones about rights and freedoms that have nothing to do with the book(s) you sold them. Things like restricting your ability to self publish other books before the one you sold is published (if ever).
    If you are going the traditional route, read and understand what you are selling.

  5. I agree with Al about the Titanic line — in fact, I might have to steal it.

    Seriously, though, you’re right, EM. While we indies are complaining about Amazon’s changing algorithms, etc., we ought to keep in mind what it was like in the Bad Old Days, when publishers ruled the roost and writers had to sell their souls to be considered “legitimate”. Things could be so much worse for us.

    The industry upheaval will settle down eventually. When that day comes, we’ll be fine — as long as we keep writing in the meantime.

  6. I think we (the serious Indies) are all on the same page: each month so many of the posts seem to hover around similar themes, without any physical prompting or contact, and forthright as ever, Stephen, you go straight for the jugular.

    We are going to have to be tenacious, those old blood sucking zombies are not going to lie down and die easily; their machinations are only just now being exposed: the Author House, back street type dealings, and the Amazon, backroom, secret handshake type dealings. What don’t we know about yet? It’s going to get dirtier before the air clears!

    Excellent article, Stephen.

    1. Thanks, T.D. I think we do hit a lot of the same issues — maybe because we’re all really facing the same issues (in the broadest sense). You are right also about our need to be tenacious. Great comment. 🙂

  7. Yup, and that’s why I stay Indie. Not like the Big 6 will do much for you. And I get the satisfaction of learning and doing it all on my own. Yes, I’ve made many mistakes, and I learn from them. Along the way, I’ve been able to pass along what I’ve learned to others. It’s just the right thing to do. Pay it forward and it will pay you back. Excellent post.

  8. Stephen, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Trad publishers are scrambling, pulling out all the stops to quell the tide of us indie authors. What I hope more indies will understand very soon is that their stories are worth telling and they don’t need a cadre of “experts” to “handle” them. The better we do, the more anxious the Big 6 get, and I love it! Thanks!

  9. I went with a Publish-on-Demand–pricey, did what they said they’d do and not an iota more, and they only contact me when they want me to invest in yet another scheme. Only difference is that I still own my story. But I have no control over how my books are priced. Fortunately I have e-copies…and can do with them what I want! Going indie pub next time!

  10. “Even if they decide to do nothing with it, you won’t get to either.” I’ve been waffling over all the rest, but this is the one that keeps bringing me back to indie.

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