Just when you thought it was safe to publish

Line art representation of a Quill

I am sure many of you have already read about Night Shade Books whose assets are being sold to Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing. You can read a detailed account of the transaction and why it is happening here and here. And here is an interesting article from a writer’s perspective.

That last link is very interesting. I suggest you go and read it, but if you don’t want to leave the comforts of this blog, here’s an excerpt I’d like to highlight:

And amid all the chatter, what gets me is how everybody goes on and on about how stupid writers must be to sign these things. And without weighing their options and personal situations and having all that information, I’d agree. The deal is seedy. It’s made to fuck writers in all sorts of interesting new ways. But guess what? So are a lot of boilerplate contracts sent to unagented authors from major and minor publishers all over the world. In fact, the SFWA just got a few fixed recently that have been in play for a bit now. That Hydra bullshit? That was from a major house, guys. One without a Writer Beware rep.

Fucking authors is not a new thing. Our job is to try and get fucked less (Or fucked better. Glass half full/half empty thing).

Night Shade fucked the shit out of a lot of people, and they did it with a smile and a wink and asked us to consider just how hard this was all for them, when they fucked us. They owe thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to our friends and colleagues, to writers and artists and editors and freelancers we hang with every year at cons and harass on Twitter and buy drinks at the bar.

~ From Deal/No Deal: Why I Am Considering the Skyhorse/Night Shade “Buyout” by Kameron Hurley

As an unknown and unpublished writer, I find this all very odd and disconcerting.

Here’s why: If one feels the environment in the traditional route of publishing is so toxic to authors that one compares the experience to something akin to “fucking authors”, then why sign a contract with any publisher?

Part of being a writer is running your own business. You are responsible for producing and managing content, then selling and promoting it – regardless of how you publish. If you thought writing was hard, try running a successful business. As a writer, you have to both master the craft of writing, and have enough business acumen to not get trapped in bad contracts. No easy feat to accomplish both. My heart goes out to those writers that are in financial strain because of the demise of Night Shade Books.

For my part, I have a consultant business I’ve managed for over ten years, and up until the beginning of this year, I was also co-owner of another business with five partners. And I can say this much, in those ten+ years of doing business, I have never signed a contract that wasn’t to my benefit. It just wouldn’t make sense to run my business into the ground for the opportunity to work.

To be fair, yes, it is true that waiting for that fat paycheck to come once every few months is painful. But I had prepared for that scenario. I knew payments would be far and few in between. It is the very nature of consulting and, apparently, it is a similar case with traditional publishing. Everyone knows this. It is not some secret.

So, dear writers, why not, like, be ready? Let’s not extend beyond a very modest budget, and, yes, have another means of income to pay for the necessities so you don’t end up being hostage to a publisher that doesn’t pay on time (and then, figuratively, screws you over).

This whole, unfortunate series of events has also gotten me thinking of something else: If I can’t get a mutually-beneficial contract with a publisher (big or small), why publish? Or, rather, why not self-publish?

Yeah, here I go again, extolling the virtues of self-publishing.

Well, let’s think about this. If you are offered a contract from a publisher for your novel, it means two things:

  1. They think they can make money from selling your work, and
  2. They think they can make money from selling your work.

Yup, folks, that’s what it means. I am sure all editors love the written word and adore the stories their authors produce. But as far as publishers go, the ones concerned with the business side of the industry, it is all about making money. If they weren’t, they’d end up like Night Shade Books. It is as simple as that.

So again, dear writers, if a publisher thinks they can make money from your work…that means you can, too. Why not self-publish and keep all the profits rather than sharing a vast chunk of it with the publisher?

I know there are lots of reasons to go with a publisher: editing, great cover art, some marketing, and most importantly, distribution. Big or small, a publisher can open a lot more doors than self-publishing.

But at what price? How much are you willing to sell to get through those doors?

12 thoughts on “Just when you thought it was safe to publish

  1. The more and more I hear about the traditional routes of publishing, the less I like it. Self publishing is no easy road, but things in that arena can only improve as time goes on. At least, I hope so.

    1. Howdy, Lynn!
      Well, I don’t mean to say that the traditional publishing contracts screw writers over, but if that is how one *feels* about the contract or that’s how those contracts make one feel, why sign it? Why allow yourself to be screwed over?

      Of course, that is if that is how you feel about the contract. If you feel you are getting a fair deal, then, of course, take that contract. I guess the hard part is in the knowing of whether you are about to be violated or not. 😦

  2. Well thought out piece Nila. It gets a little tiring to hear so many ‘intelligent’ people playing the victim. The ability to self-publish is such a huge advantage now. I can feel a little more sympathy for those in the past who didn’t have that tool, but now… c’mon!

    1. Hi Phillip! I agree that writers now a days do have many options available. At the same time, those options can be daunting. It would be nice to have an agent and publisher who handle all those options. But at the same time, if you are not getting the deal you think you should, there’s no reason to not strike out on your own.

      Michael J Sullivan just did that with Hollow World, getting over 30k (I think) via kickstarter. Granted, he has a huge audience, but he built that audience BEFORE Orbit published him. Seems to me he was, and is, doing fine without a publisher.

  3. Personally, I’m not interested in self-publishing for the same reasons Charlie Stross (for example) give. He can say it better than me, but in a nutshell, I like to write, but I hate to manage subcontractors like cover artists, editors, copyeditors, etc.,and I don’t much like marketing. Stross estimates that self-publishing would cut his output in half, but for me it is less about time and more about disinclination. So if I were to self-publish, I’d like to just find someone who took care of all of that stuff for me, and assumed the up-front risks so I didn’t have any monetary outlay up front, which is basically what traditional publishers do.
    They also try to screw people out of money, of course, but that’s what agents are for (I also have no particular philosophical objection to letting someone skim off my profits if they give me a route to sell more copies).
    Now, if I actually enjoyed/had time for/talent in all the things that go into publishing I might have a different attitude.

    1. And I agree completely! Going the traditional route allows writers to write. It is a lot of distraction to deal with everything else.

      I guess my gripe is: if you feel that the relationship with your publisher is so bad that you feel you are getting screwed over…WTF? Why on earth would you enter an agreement that made you feel that way? It would be like taking a job at MacDonald’s and getting half of minimum wage so that you can wear their uniform and nametag – with pride.

      I guess that’s fine, but then don’t complain when that publisher swipes all your rights and sticks a broom handle between your mitts and tells you to sweep till the end of time. Or – demand a better contract.

      I am not in a position to self-publish or seek out an agent (nothing good enough to publish). As a relatively new writer, this post is just a few of my thoughts on the business of writing. It just seems like there’s a lot of screwing going on and only one party is having a good time.

      1. I suspect most people who think they’ve been screwed come to that realization over time. I think the problem is that after toiling in obscurity for years it is easy to get over-optimistic at the first sign of success. That and a lot of authors are just not well-versed on how nasty and complicated things are.

        One thing I’ve heard that bears repeating is that if one person is willing to pay for your novel, them someone else will be, so there is no reason to get too excited and sign the first offer you get (if there really is only one person wiling to pay for your work, that is probably an indication of a scammer, sadly).

        One big advantage of full-blown self-publishing (as opposed to using some POD firm or Amazon or whatever) is that you at least know no one is cheating you. You may not make any money or get any readers, but heck, you probably won’t anyway 🙂 Of course, all those subcontractors you need to wrangle may still try to screw you, but at least the damage they can do is limited.

      2. Both you and Deby make some good points about self-publishing. I think the take away lessons from this is that *publishing*, traditional or self, should not be taken lightly. Proceed with caution and a pack of lawyers, if you can afford ’em! 🙂

        Actually, my husband tells me that all the time. He says that if I am ever offered a publishing contract, we are taking that contract to a lawyer to make sure my copyrights are protected.

        And, because I’ll be head-over-heels about getting a contract, I’ll probably ignore all their advice and sign it anyway. :p

  4. You have an excellent point, about writers managing our careers like a business — because they are. Not everyone has the management experience that your evidently do, and so the prospect of setting up shop is daunting.

    It’s certainly maddening to hear of publishers cheating authors, or setting up self-publishing imprints that forge partnerships with notorious scam publishers, as in the Hydra case. The whole circumstance of the publishing industry makes self-publishing more and more enticing, but I’m sure you know that the follow-through is even more important than the initial setup.

    1. Very true, Deby. Self-publishing can be just as daunting as trying to negotiate a publishing contract. I guess, in the end, which ever we choose, we need to do so with as much research and due diligence as possible.

  5. Very nice piece indeed Nila! Self publishing is the same as starting your own cake business, or maybe even your own freelance studio. You have to be your own marketer, public relations specialist, CFO, and CEO. That’s not easy. When I was growing up, I was very fortunate to be a Piers Anthony fan, and as an author he is very encouraging but realistic with young writers who contact him. Suffice it to say that after our exchanges, I decided to pursue what I hope to be marketable skills that can worm either independently of or collaborate with my first love: writing. That is why I chose graphic designer, and topped it off with a creative media degree. My next stop is to get certified in marketing. All of this I hope will be useful to me when I begin to self-publish.

    1. Hey A.!

      Thanks for stopping by. And, yes, I do believe that is a great idea. If you plan to be a writer now-a-days, it makes sense to have a lot of skills other than just writing.

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