On Publishing Snobbery: a Business Perspective

This post is inspired by Victoria Scott’s blog post where she addresses and exposes some of the snobbery she’s experienced from other writers who say working with a small publisher isn’t real publishing. I took this little respite from NaNoWriMo, because I wanted to speak to it from a business perspective and lend my support to clear up some misconceptions people have about publishing. For the full article, please visit Victoria’s blog: http://www.victoriascottya.com/punch.

I’m no expert, but I have learned a thing or two this past year.

First, a little background…

Over the past few years, the publishing industry has changed. In the past, authors needed publishing houses to publish their books. Print was the only medium for books and the costs were prohibitive for authors to self-publish, unless you had some sort of platform, e.g., You were booked for speaking engagements in large venues and you had a captive audience to sell your books to (this still works, I hear!)

Now, with epublishing and the internet, there are numerous venues available to authors.

An author’s options:

1. Get an agent and publish with a large publishing house (one of the Big 5 – formerly Big 6 publishers or one of their imprints). To which you will get an advance and have a great team of people working with you but you may lose some creative control.

This in the business world is like getting a job with a big company. Using high-tech companies as an example, a publishing contract with one of the big five is like getting a job at IBM, Oracle, SAP, Xerox, or Hewlitt Packard. Big, well-established companies. You’ll get benefits, good pay, and have an established structure to work within.

That structure can be a good thing, or it can be restrictive, depending on your style.

2. Publish with a smaller, independent publishing house. Over the years, this number has been growing. This requires no agent, and you might not get the same advance (you may get none), but your sales percentages will be a bit higher, and you will likely have more creative input in your process.

In the business world, again using high-tech as an example, this might be like getting a job with an independent IT company. Think of Apple, Adobe, Google, Facebook, Microsoft. These giants all started as small start-up companies. In the business world, some of these businesses make it, and others don’t. You might not have received the same benefits and training, but your skills would develop differently. Most of all, you’d be part of a growth industry in a growing company where you could make a difference.

3. Self publish, where you make all the profit. You must hire your own editor, graphic designer, publicist, work with printing and distribution companies (if going with print) as well as learn how to epublish your own book if you go online. This is the greatest risk with the greatest potential for reward.

This is like starting your own company. You maintain complete creative control and learn all aspects of the business. Sink or swim.

The Odds

So, before my first book was accepted for publication, I shopped around. Many factors go into editors choosing books. They have specific things they’re looking for. They are looking for what would be the next big thing, which would bring them the biggest publishing deal. It’s about sales and money, and absolutely loving a book.

How many of you have read a book that you loved so much, you told everyone you knew about it?

That’s how much a publishing house and your agent has to love your book. If they’ve already read something similar, they might have pledged allegiance to it already.

I’ve found that of the mere 30-50 books I read in a year, only 5 of them earn my adoration. That’s 10%. The more I read, the less love I have to give. I may enjoy the books in the moment, and think they’re great. But head over heels? That’s 3 or 4 books a year!

Of those books, I look at hundreds to decide if I even want to read them in the first place.

I’m an author, not an agent or publisher. But when I look at those numbers, I understand how personal these things are. One person’s favorite book of all time is another person’s most hated book.

All Snobbery Aside – Or is it? An Business Perspective

So, when I read Victoria Scott’s blog post, I realized I was up against the same snobbery from some of my writer friends who wouldn’t want to work with a small publisher. To them, it’s not real publishing. I’ve heard the same kinds of things from writers as Victoria. For a full list, visit her blog: http://www.victoriascottya.com/punch.

Say you’re a writer and you’ve got skills. You may be still learning and honing your craft (we all are), but, ultimately, you are seeking a career as a novelist. Usually people who write their first book want it to be published, and it doesn’t always happen that way. There is a great deal to learn about writing a novel. There’s lots to figure out. Even after publication, this is a career choice. It’s not just having a book under your belt and moving on. It’s a trade and a craft. As a writer, you have to take your career into your own hands. An agent isn’t going to do that for you, neither is a publisher. It’s all you.

With the recent publishing industry changes, writers who are waiting for a huge writing contract in order to get published may be waiting longer than ever. If you don’t keep writing, or growing as a writer, you are doing the equivalent of  staying unemployed, and not getting job training, waiting for a big established corporation like IBM to come and hire you.

Don’t get me wrong, a job at IBM is great! But, in hind sight, if you could get in on a job at Google when the company was just starting to grow, wouldn’t that be a great job too? Or would you rather be unemployed just in case IBM comes along? Does not working at IBM mean you’re not good enough to work for a living?

I hope not! I celebrate every job I have, and I’ve worked for some great, prestigious companies. I’ve also worked for some start ups. Both have their pluses and minuses.

But never once did I say, I’m not a real professional because I wasn’t working for one of the top 5 huge IT companies. Please don’t do yourself that disservice. You are a professional writer the moment you take your writing career seriously. No matter who publishes you.

(And, by the way, I’m using Google, because it’s Fortune 500’s number one company to work for this year. Who’s to say that one of these new publishing houses isn’t going to become the Google equivalent of publishing one day?)

So to all my fellow writer and author friends, I wish you all the best in your publishing journey. Let’s not judge each other too harshly. We are a community of business people and craftspeople. The more we can support and encourage each other on this journey, the better.

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