Enough already.

by Michelle Gagnon

I feel like there’s been an increasingly acrimonious discourse lately on traditional vs. self-publishing, and frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m seeing it at conferences, online, and everywhere in between. Both camps are equally guilty here, in terms of snide comments and blatant put-downs. Those who are under contract with traditional publishing houses sniff at the fact that self-published authors skipped over hurdles to publish what they suspect (but rarely say publicly) must be drivel, or what one writer friend of mine referred to as a “tsunami of swill.”

In the other camp, the self-published authors extol the fantastic revenue returns they’re receiving, a far greater percentage than what they would have gotten from a standard publishing contract. They make lots of references to an archaic business model, implying that anyone who still partakes in it is a fool.

Enough already.

I don’t really care how someone is published, or how many books they sell, or how much money they’re making. But the overall nastiness that’s becoming commonplace is off-putting. The prevailing attitude used to be, “we’re all in this together” among writers, whereas now there’s a schism. And that’s a shame, because both models have their merits.

To those (like me) who are still publishing with the major houses: I’ve read wonderful novels in the past few years that failed to find a home. Sometimes the reason for that was clear–the book was aimed at a very niche market, one where publishers couldn’t envision making a profit. Other times, I was at a loss to know why a particular book didn’t sell. One was an amazing YA novel written by a friend of mine, who ended up self-pubbing on Wattpad. After reaching an extraordinary amount of downloads, she moved it to Amazon and started charging for it. And it’s doing well- IMHO, the publishers lost out on this one. 

To self-published authors: The traditional houses aren’t going anywhere. People frequently point to the music industry, which is a fantastic example. What they fail to take into account is that musicians still aren’t, by and large, self-producing music. Eighty-five percent of the music sold worldwide is still produced by the same music companies that were producing it a decade ago. Many of those companies have merged and/or consolidated, sure. But they’re still around, for the same reason that the big 6 will still be around in a decade. Like it or not (and I’m not, personally, a huge fan of this, but so be it), most of the houses are part of much larger conglomerates. And News Corp and CBS aren’t going anywhere; they’re also unlikely to shed an industry that still feeds into their film and TV franchises. So, no, people who still follow the old model aren’t going to be shoved out, by and large. The midlist might diminish further, but books will continue to be released by those companies well into the future.

There are pros and cons to each model. Self-published authors don’t have the benefit and protection of a contract, so if Amazon decides tomorrow to change those royalty rates, they’re well within their rights to do so. It’s also far more difficult to secure foreign and film/tv rights when you self-pub, and that tends to be the bread and butter of traditional authors.

Traditional authors, meanwhile, do lose out on some royalties that they could potentially be getting. They also have to wait months, and occasionally years, for a book to finally appear on shelves. And advances are not what they once were.

But there’s no right way and no wrong way. Write your book. Publish your book, however you prefer. But please, stop with the mud slinging. At the end of the day, we’re all still pursuing the same dream.


23 thoughts on “Enough already.

  1. When I first started studying the self-pub world, I noticed a lot of the acrimony outside the walls of the Forbidden City of traditional publishing. Part of this was the raw chant of freedom, like all those guys in kilts in Braveheart. They felt liberated from a system that had constantly told them no….or don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Many of them had felt the sting of an industry built on profit, and when the profit wasn’t there neither was another contract.

    Maybe a little letting off of steam was to be expected, but many made it personal. It really isn’t. Most of the editors inside the walls wish it weren’t so profit driven, either. But reality is what it is.

    I am in both worlds, so I made it my aim to write objectively about the entire scene for the benefit of the people I care about most–writers.

    Some traditional writers got caught up in the early brawls, and there was a bit of taunting from the battlements of the Forbidden City. A little of the “We are the REAL writers” sort of thing. That’s understandable, too. They’ve spent a long time, sometimes many years, to get there, and now readers are turning to these outlaws in the forest? Who are making actual money?

    Then there are those writers who are being businesslike about the whole thing, making informed judgments, and just getting on with their work. That’s the place to be.

  2. And then there are the small press writers, who had to go through a vetting process to get their books accepted similar to the Big Six. They get more personalized attention, editing, professional covers, etc. but mostly the books in print are POD. It’s hard to distinguish these from self-pubbed titles, especially at conventions like the one I just attended. Having come from a traditional route, I feel the difference compared to authors whose books are easily available to booksellers because they are with a traditional publisher. I have to sell mine on consignment to go through a dealer and that can be a losing proposition.

  3. From Kris Montee who is having trouble posting from Paris:

    AMEN SISTER, AMEN! I, do, have noticed a sort of nastiness creeping into the dialog about ebook publishing. I think it has arisen from the initial defensiveness that characterized both “sides” when the business model was just getting started. I remember sitting in the audience at the Edgar Symposium right after Barry Eisler signed with Thomas & Mercer. An editor on a panel attacked him personally, which I thought was unfair since Barry wasn’t there to defend himself. I have heard other agents and editors do the same about other writers. I kind of understand this, since e-publishing represents a threat to the traditional methods and no one is quite sure how things will shake out. What I don’t get, however, is traditionally published writers who attack fellow writers for “going over to the dark side.” Also, it bugs me that e-pubbed writers still talk about some secret NYC cabal trying to keep them from reaching the audiences and money that they believe would flow to them if only…

    As James said, I am in both worlds. I don’t see eBooks as a threat; they may save the business in the long run and they will certainly save backlists and midlist authors that publishers have abandoned in their relentless rush for bestsellers.

    I think book publishing is going to evolve into a hybrid business where authors have opportunities in BOTH worlds. It will give authors more flexibility and publishers less — unless the latter changes its attitudes. But as you said, there is no reason to make this a civil war. We should applaud any fellow author’s success — regardless of the delivery vehicle.

  4. Thank you so much for this, Michelle. We should all take pleasure each time one of us is published, whether in traditional form or otherwise. Self-publishing is not a substitute for the traditional route; it’s another avenue of opportunity. Very classy post. A keeper.

  5. Interesting post. As a “newbie” working on my first MS I read and follow all the discussions, and yes,their tones, with interest. Finding my way through this maze feels daunting at times. I will look forward to the comments here to learn even more.

  6. Michelle, Well-said, and high time. It shouldn’t be “us vs. them,” because ultimately all authors are in the same boat. As for the quality of the work, the reading–and buying–public will make the ultimate choice. Thanks for this post.

  7. Here, here! Negative energy benefits no one.

    But I have to disagree with your comparison to the music industry. If I want to self-pub a book, I can use the free library computer and cloud storage to create a book at no cost to me. If a musician wants to create an album, it costs a bundle. They either need a high-quality recording studio and friends who also play, or they need a top-of-the-line computer system that can synthesize the necessary instruments to create something that sounds good enough to entice their audience to pay.

    Publishers are forcing authors to do more and more of the things that publishers used to do, such as editing and publicity. They’re actually teaching their authors to make do without them. It would be the equivalent of the music industry telling their performers to go rent their own studios and find their own post-recording editing resources. Studios haven’t gone down that road. They still provide a needed service to their performers.

    I think if publishers don’t change their attitude toward authors, they may find that they’ve pushed away the very people they rely on to stay in business. That’s where the real danger lies, in my opinion.


  8. I just returned from the NINC conference, which was focused on the business side of things. There were some big industry professionals there, and with only one exception, everyone seemed willing to recognize that we are free to choose our own paths. When I first started writing, it was “e” vs “print.” E-books were brand new (pre-Kindle) and people wanted me to let them know when I wrote a “real” book, even though it was published by a legitimate publisher. Now, they’re more likely to ask “can I get it for my Kindle/Nook?” Back then, I fought the “either-or” mentality, and now it’s the same for indie vs traditional.

    Terry’s Place

  9. Michelle, very nice to see this–I couldn’t agree more. What gets lost in all sturm und drang is the writing, which, bottom line, is what will make or break any author.

    I addressed the same issue in a 4,500-word trio of posts on my own blog a couple of months ago (the article was largely directed at pros-and-cons comparison and evaluation to help writers see through the fog), and am similarly disgusted by the acrimony. I also believe that both sides are biased and disingenuous, and not disclosing all the facts.

    Good post.

  10. Yay Michelle! If I have to hear one more diatribe about the “greedy” establishment (especially agents), I may do something extreme, like write a very strident letter to the editor about it!

    However, revolutions are seldom tidy and this one has more rotten word tomatoes than most.

    And you nailed it. A few taunts thrown down by trad authors/agents/editors sends the goths storming the walls into a fury. Neither side has clean hands.

    Personally, one thing I love about it is the rebirth of the anthology and novella – a market that had nearly gone extinct.

    I don’t know if this one is going to die down any time soon as Amazon and News Corp build to a face off. However, even when the T-Rexes were fighting, the little scavengers and mammals were scurrying around doing just fine.

    Great post! Terri

  11. Well, there’s nothing like a little conflict to get the juices flowing. Maybe it’s the “political” season rubbing off on everybody. Now we can all go back into our dark corner and spend the winter writing cool stories. Eh?

  12. I can say I may never know the wonders of traditional publishing as I’ve only begun my journey in a culture saturated with the digital age technology. But I will still try the traditional at some point. There’s no reason to give up on it. But for now, I wouldn’t know a preferred method of publishing. I can only imagine the struggles.

    I’ve read about the journeys of many of my favorite authors, including Stephen King, and I can’t imagine how I might deal with rejection after rejection.

    I did self-publish a short story on Amazon which sold about 14 copies. However, when I did a promotion on free copies, my story was downloaded 48 more times in 5 days.

    That’s 62 pair of eyes that hopefully read it. I’m not looking to get rich, but it is nice to know that someone somewhere read your work!

    I think both ways probably have their benefits, too. I would love one day to have a book I wrote sitting in the local library with a publisher’s name printed on it.

    I also just recently attended the Florida Writer’s Conference in Lake Mary in October and there were a few sessions dedicated to self-publishing, including a panel discussion by members who were publishers, agents, and authors. I enjoyed it. There was a little friendly banter back and forth, but now I’m wondering how much of the banter hits home personally and they don’t even realize it.

    I stay out of those types of things and I’ll tend to agree with you, Michelle. Enough is enough.

  13. Love this, Michelle. When I think of fellow authors, I don’t think in terms of how they are published, but rather that they share the same passion to write as I do. We are cut from the same creative & kindred cloth. We should celebrate that.

  14. I kind of like to imagine it all in a sort of Tolkeinish Mordor scene. In this case though, Sauron and the Orcs (Big 5)are all really rather nice people with families and dreams who are merely misunderstood by those outside the city walls.

    The Hobbits (indies) are mostly decent folk with big ideas and grand dreams who’ve never been outside the shire to the big city and are somewhat resentful that the big guys are so big and have so much seeming wealth for what seems like so little work on the backs of the little guys. Not to mention that the tall people have so little hair on their much smaller feet and no one laughs at them when they try to reach the top shelf at the grocery.

    Its sort of an Occupy Middle Earth mentality for some of the Hobbits. And at the same time a hold the citadel, defend the old ways from the heathen outsiders for the Mordorians. But it needn’t be.

    With all their trodding underfoot tactics and scuttling about trying to toss rings of power into fiery volcanoes the Hobbit writers are missing the point that traditional publishing has its place, and a very useful place it is.

    Likewise with their deafening roars and mockery and the tossing from the city walls of burning balls of pitch and sulfur onto the masses below simply extends the misery of the populace within besieged Mordor, which can only end with Orcs eating Orcs, which is a rather nasty way to go for both the eater and the eatee (Orc flesh tastes rather like rancid over cooked mule meat with vomit sauce…but not as good).

    If both sides were to just chill and see the mutual need for one another I think the industry would even out, customers would enjoy the best of both worlds, and everyone would be fairly happy, with the exception of those truly miserable sorts on both sides who are only happy when no one else is happy and therefore are only fighting for the sake of being idiots who like fighting.

    Therefore I say: One Ring To Rule Them All, now available in paperback, hardback, eBook, audiobook, podcast, serialized emailbook, and story told ’round the campfire to the huddled masses of quivering due to sugary s’mores overloaded boy scouts on a rainy night in the mountains formats.

    So there.

    I am Basil Sands, and I approve this message.

    We can all live together and tell stories and live happily

Comments are closed.