C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Writers: The Advantages of Building Your Own Team.

After my last post, someone asked, “What are those competitive advantages indie authors enjoy?”

Deep breath. Here we go.

A bunch of factors spring to mind first: control so you aren’t at the mercy of writing by committee, transparency in reporting, fewer middlemen, no gatekeepers (except the end reader), quicker to market, flexibility in pricing, flexibility in marketing, choice of covers, the ability to switch covers, choice of blurb, the ability to change a blurb, choice of editor, getting paid monthly, control of your career options. Oh, yeah, and a 70% return. The math is good.

Independence is awesome.

Victory has a thousand fathers. It feels great to create art and build a business by your wits without someone else claiming they “discovered” or “nurtured” you for 15% of the take and a license to condescend. And that shit stains forever, y’all.

I’ve made a whack of bold artistic choices I’m sure a mainstream publisher would discourage me from accomplishing. Too bad. Sad baby. I made those unsafe choices anyway and most people tend to dig it. (And if they don’t, I handle it like a man. I cry alone in the car, stare into the existential abyss until I hear the echo and move the fuck on.)

About the shaky detente between agents, publishers and We Who Submit

Let’s step back and admit that not every author is so bitter they want to strangle an agent or editor with their own intestines. Still, there’s a lot of tension in those relationships and anger building to chaos is not always an overblown claim. I’ve worked for many publishers. From the inside, I can tell you many editorial staff exhibit contempt for their stable of writers. There’s conflict and desperation on both sides, especially since authors and editors tend to be paid poorly for all their trouble.

Authors are the backbone of the business but are sometimes seen as inconvenient. When computers can write novels well, publishers will welcome our robot overlords. Stephen King got pissed off at his first publisher because they could never seem to remember his name even though he was making them a fortune. Take a look at some big agent blogs and you’ll see the same symptoms of contempt.

For some damn reason, there are fewer big agents now.

The indie revolution was tragic for them. I don’t know if they’re still making fun of the writers who submit to them under the guise of educating us as to what’s good and bad. I stopped looking at obnoxious agent blogs about the time I started up this obnoxious blog. I got fed up with imperious pronouncements about how “Plots about midlife crises are over!” and “Don’t send me another manuscript that uses the gimmick of synesthesia!”

You made too many mean pronouncements that denigrated good work and nice people, Karen. I hope you enjoy selling real estate now.

On Writing by committee. 

When you’re making the decisions, an agent or editor can’t demand, “Rewrite the whole thing in third person,” and then months later rudely declare that it should be written in first. Again.

Yes, that and similar things have happened many times over. Funny how writers used to worry about getting blackballed by pillars of the industry. I used to know a bunch of pillars of the industry. They hated each other’s guts. Everybody was so sure they were smarter than everyone else. That probably explains the seething hatred and petty squabbles.

Horror stories abound about agents and some editors and publishers. Writers are all Chatty Cathies. We spread gossip faster than the clap and swoon with displeasure. We rage in secret Facebook groups and we don’t forget. I personally haven’t forgiven anyone for anything since…well…never, actually. Anyhoosles, those tearful stories of betrayal have driven many writers to publish their work independently.

Are there good agents? Of course. Ironically, there are probably better agents now. Since they’ve retreated somewhat from the limelight at writing conventions, I hear they look less knowing and are acting more polite. Instead of a struggle to establish who’s the boss in Hell, the business relationship between authors and agents may have a better chance at working on an even keel now.

Quicker to market

Publishers sometimes tell authors they don’t want to “flood the market” by publishing too many books in the same series too close together. That horse poop has nothing at all to do with flooding the market. As any indie will tell you, hungry readers want the next book in the series now (and they’ll forget you if you leave that next book too long.)

This flood warning from on high is beneficial to companies with schedules that work at a glacial pace. It’s about the publisher fitting your book into their timetable and their limited production budget. Print runs are expensive. Big lumbering companies are about the big picture and making your fans wait is part of the slow cook model of making books.

Trouble is, readers don’t appreciate you more when your book finally arrives next year. They want your next novel when you have it ready editorially. Your readers are not interested in the logistical problems of begging the printer in Taiwan to load 5,000 copies onto a container ship. Sure, the publisher is stretching out the bill payments to that printer because the CEO’s golden parachute has to be funded but that’s not the reader’s problem. Turns out, it’s your problem and, surprise! When you’re playing on someone else’s team, you’re the least powerful variable in the publishing equation. 

The crucial difference between us and big publishers.

As Tim Ferriss puts it, publishing is a hit-driven business. They’re all head hunting. Many of us are hunting for the big score, too, of course. It would be great to have one book that moves huge numbers and pays for books that perform less well…and a cabin cruiser in Fiji.

However, our biz does not have to be hit-driven. Many successful indies are going another way, publishing more books to build a backlist that delivers a reliable living. Pulp speed is back, baby! (But, take heart, even slower tortoises can win this race.)

But what about getting into bookstores?

It’s a rigamarole, yes, but you can get into bookstores. You’ll have to go through Ingram. A friend of mine even got his masterpieces into Costco. All it took was good books, persistence, phone calls and salesmanship. I’ve been on bookstore shelves on consignment but decided it wasn’t worth the gas and time to go around restocking. Online is where I make my money and I prefer income that is so passive I can fall asleep on a couch while the gears keep turning.

We can compete on quality and price.

Why aren’t traditional authors more worried about selling online? I know what you’re thinking. Of course, they’re ubiquitous online. They are, but often in a less effective way. The companies that represent them fought Amazon for the privilege of posting prices that are hard for many customers to swallow. If you sell a book for $2.99 or $3.99, do you really think books that sell for three times as much are three times better? These are uncertain times for the average reader.

I’d rather delight more readers at a low price and make up the loss in volume. I know it works because we’re already doing it. It’s still 30% or 70% instead of a big publisher’s boilerplate contract. Independent authors have a better shot at going full-time. If you want to write full-time, I’d encourage you to consider all your options before signing a contract that uses obfuscating terms like “net-net.”

I still see traditionally published Kindle books at prices of more than $15. Some authors can command that. If so, cool! However, some companies even charge more for the ebook than the paper version. That’s messed up and bears no relation to costs of delivery.

My most expensive ebook is $7.99, an omnibus containing three large books. I have a first in series that’s only 99 cents and it makes a profit. I don’t have the expenses of an office in Manhattan and I’m not trying to prop up Barnes and Noble with my pricing. That’s a huge competitive advantage.

But what about those deep pockets big publishers spend on book promotion?

Irrelevant, for two reasons. First, they aren’t spending those big bucks on you. Shelf space for midlist authors has shrunk. The chain bookstores had to make more space for pillows, candles, the coffee bar and more useless crap people buy so they have something to dust. Publishers bet big on the hits so they promote the shit out of the name authors you grew up reading and idolizing.

Second, a couple posts back I talked about a bunch of promotional options for authors. Just like you can have the same iPhone a billionaire possesses, you have access to most of the same promotional options as the rich. You might not be able to afford a billboard or a full page ad in the New York Times, but that stuff doesn’t work, anyway — not compared to the smarter and more efficient online options.

The Real Deal

Many debut authors who go the traditional route are surprised how little their new business partners do for them in the publicity and promotion department. Nobody cares about your book as much as you do. If a company has a couple dozen authors to promote, how much energy do you really think will go your way? Answer: not much.

This is one reason it makes sense to go for the biggest advance you can, by the way. The more the publisher has invested in your contract, the more they’ll want to put into the book’s success. Of course, if you don’t move enough books to justify that big advance, they’ll hold it against you when you try to come back to them with your next book. It’s always your fault as a writer, not their fault as a marketer.

It’s a crazy whirly-gig, isn’t it? Willie Wonka’s murdering kids in that factory and he’s the hero of this surreal business.

All authors must promote themselves.

Big budget or small, it’s pretty much up to you. Even if you get a little flurry of activity around the launch of your book, you’re tasked with keeping the good vibes coming. To put that in perspective, I’ve published a lot of books but the biggest hit is still paying out five years after its launch. If I were with a big publisher, I’d be old news, remaindered and forgotten by now. The window for success is so much narrower in the trad world. Bookstores return books for credit and they are not patient with a book that has a slow build. I hung in there long enough to take off eventually. Big publishers and bookstores don’t do “eventually.”

The Less Cruel Way Out

Your parents want you to be a doctor and they probably know best. Go save lives. However, if you’re bent on breaking their hearts, publish now and kill them fast. The alternative is too cruel. To get that publishing contract and a tiny advance, you could blow the best years of your life — or the time you were supposed to be in med school — building a Jenga tower of form rejection slips.

Worse? Leave it to a stranger you don’t know but somehow respect more than your judgment if you want. You might never get published if you wait for your turn in the machine.

The odds are forever not in your favor. A worthy agent may take on one or two clients a year. That is one tiny needle to thread with your big ole creative camel. You could be the writer-in-residence in Permanent Aspiring Mode. It’s a dingy place and you might deserve better.

Sure, it’s possible your writing sucks. However, lots of great work goes unpublished for reasons that have nothing to do with quality of writing.

Here are some examples of why you may not be among the chosen few:

Shrug. Sorry, we’re still not ready to bring back Westerns. We’ll jump on that bandwagon after somebody else does it. We’ll try to catch the market after that genre is played out because we’re donkey slow. Still got a metric shit-ton of poor Harry Potter knock-offs in the back. Those skids of books insulate the warehouse.

And vampires will never come back (except they always do) and we’ll manage to be amazed every time.

And we only aspire to publish serious literary works that don’t sell and oh, look, we won’t be publishing anything this fall because we’re out of business. Time to parlay this utter failure into an industry consultant job at Hachette. I know what the kids want these days with their “Hey!” and “Whoa!” and, “Like…gnarly!”

And zombies are dead. Except they aren’t, but they are…we’re confused. We don’t understand why that market still sells and we don’t think it should. We lead readers…or we would if only they liked what we tell them to like.

Shut up! The grown-ups know what they’re doing! 

In conclusion

Suddenly, the independent route to publishing seems much less fraught with obstacles and terrors, doesn’t it?

~ Humbly submitted for your consideration by Robert Chazz Chute. Check out my books at AllThatChazz.com if you’re of a mind to love suspenseful SF and killer thrillers. And if’n you ain’t, well, shucks.

Filed under: publishing

3 Responses

  1. acflory says:

    -grin- Preaching to the converted here but I enjoyed the roundup. 🙂

  2. […] Writers: The Advantages of Building Your Own Team. […]

  3. Mohadoha says:

    What gets me is explaining to people that many well deserved books never see the light of day because of the pressure in commercial publishing for book sales to pay the salaries of all involved in the publishing process. I like the fact that I can find my own audience and let readers decide whether or not to buy one: not some agent in New York telling me to move my stories to the US to make them more palpable for an American (Caucasian) audience (which actually happened to me).

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