Thursday, May 24, 2012

Big publishers vs the indie press

Are the big publishers even still relevant? One of the things about being a writer that a lot of people don’t stop to think about, is that at some point you have to consider how you’re going to get what you’ve written into the hands of readers. That’s the publishing aspect of the business. It can be a daunting and soul-crushing process that most writers would prefer not to have to think about.

Publishing has traditionally been an ugly, cutthroat business. We’ve all heard stories about famous authors whose work was rejected by one short-sighted publisher after another. (I wouldn’t want to be one of the editors who rejected Harry Potter!) The big publishers have lots of expenses they need to recoup, and often aren’t willing to take chances on anything that doesn’t fit an established niche. Which leaves you in a bad position indeed if your masterpiece is outside of the proverbial box.

Many writers are astonished to learn that when they do finally land a publisher, they may get only a measly 10% of the royalties. And, you as an author are still expected to do most of the marketing and promotion work! Why would any author agree to such an insane arrangement? Because until very recently the big publishing houses held all the cards. If you were a writer that wanted to get your work before the public, you had no other choice. As a business model, it made perfect sense when authors had to rely on someone who could not only create the physical book, but also get it into bookstores. Typesetting, printing, and distribution of printed materials was and is an expensive and complex business.

Things are different now. You no longer need a printing press--if you have a computer and an internet connection, you can get your book published. You must be prepared to provide for yourself those services that traditional publishers provide--editorial services, layout and cover artists, for example. (More about this later.) And, of course, the indie route doesn’t carry quite the cachet of having your book published by a big name. This is something I’ve never quite understood. Think about it--writers are the only professionals who are stigmatized by selling their work themselves. Who benefits from this attitude? The big publishing houses! It seems that the more irrelevant they become they more stubbornly they cling to the status quo. I read this week that Houghton-Mifflin has filed for bankruptcy. I predict that they will be but the first of many.

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