Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Big Question = Big Girl Panties... by Cathy Ace

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: I recently heard a comment that the big publishers are trying to hold onto an old model of publishing that doesn’t work so well anymore. Is this true? Why doesn’t it work, and how could the model be changed?

Yikes! Pulls up Big Girl Panties to try to give a serious response…

The “old” model of publishing boils down to this: writer – agent – publisher – bookseller/library. The writer puts in the months of sweat and tears to create a manuscript; the agent punts that about amongst potential purchasers (traditional publishers); the publisher invests in editing/polishing the manuscript, cover art, printing books, warehousing books, distributing books, promoting books; the bookseller invests in a shop where readers come to buy the book.

Please choose MY books!!!

This model has been disrupted in several ways. The most obvious way would be the arrival of e-books (negating the requirement for print, physical distribution, bricks-and-mortar stores). Another disruptor was the advent of technology that allowed for books to be printed on demand (ie a few at a time, rather than by the thousand) thus allowing for individual/small order to be placed by authors, Indie publishers, individuals (readers) using an online storefront, or even traditional bookstores. Also, the rise of social media means that we’re well past the days when a publisher could simply advertise a new book via “traditional” media, because readers increasingly find out about what they want to read via media they self-select (usually online sources).

These disrupting factors have given rise to a wide range of ways for readers to get the books they want to read, and for writers to publish the books they write. Nowadays, every single stage of the write, edit, polish, cover art, e-book production, print-production, promotion, and even physical distribution of a book is available either for the writer to do it themselves – by purchasing each service individually from different suppliers, or for the writer to use one of the many companies which offer all those services for a fee, or to try to attract an agent, who will try to sell the book to a traditional publisher; the writer must choose.

The traditional publishing model has been around for a long, long time. These days the “BIG PUBLISHERS” seem to be consolidating into one amorphous mass, with a nod to various imprints along the way; to be perfectly honest, I no longer know which company owns which imprints…but that’s a moot point anyway, as far as I am concerned, as I have walked away from the only two publishers I ever had to become an Indie Author.

Actually, I’m what’s called a Hybrid Author, to be exact, since the rights to publish the print version of one series is still held by a traditional publishing company, and my other series has rights still owned by a publishing house which was itself taken over, then sold the e-rights to another publishing house. Arrrggghhh...yes, it’s complicated, which might be why so many authors these days are finding their feet as Indie Authors, like me.

My experience with publishers/agents has been “not necessarily roses all the way”, but my experiences are just that – mine, so I don’t want to generalize, because that’s not useful, or fair. One thing I feel I CAN say, however, is this: every single person I have encountered working in publishing has been a dedicated professional – the business attracts people who love books, so they’ve got that going for them to start with! No, my disenchantment with the business of publishing isn’t because of the people, but because of the way of working. Every author who’s been published by a traditional house understands what I mean when I say we all have to “hurry up, and wait”: you spend months getting to the point where a manuscript is the best you can make it by your deadline date, you send it off…then wait for months before you get feedback, which you are given nanoseconds to turn around, then you wait months for more feedback, which you are given nanoseconds to turn around…and so it goes on. A writer may or may not have input about their cover art and the back-cover blurb about the book; they certainly have no input in terms of distribution; most of the promotional effort is their own, due to tiny promotional budgets for all but traditional publishers’ biggest-selling star authors and small promotional staffing levels.

Designing & creating my own covers these days...

No, I’m not going to turn this post into a whinge-fest, but I will tell you that I became completely exasperated so decided to go it alone. I don’t use a company offering a full range of publishing services because I can’t afford them. I pay an editor with whom I have a good understanding/relationship, and do the same for copy-editing; I design and create my own cover art using Canva; I publish e-books directly through amazon for Kindle, directly through Kobo for Kobo readers, and also use them for getting e-books to libraries via Overdrive – I format them all myself; I format and publish print books directly through amazon which are printed to order when a reader wants to buy them from there; I format and publish print books via Ingram to gain access to the online ordering systems in pretty much every bookstore and library around the world…they order the books they want when they want them and they are printed on demand by Ingram and shipped directly to them (so there’s no huge print-run costs upfront for me, nor any warehousing costs). The promotional effort is all my own.

How different is this than the “old way” I was published by the two traditional publishing houses I had contracts with? Not much. The editing is done at the same level (I know this because I met the editor I use now when she worked exclusively for one of my publishers…she’s now a freelance); both of my original publishers, like me, use Ingram to provide print-on-demand around the world, in order to mitigate their own upfront print-run costs and warehousing needs; neither publisher spent great gobs of money promoting my work (one of them allocated a $75 allowance for each of my book launches, that was about it). The one thing that’s tougher now? Getting traditional media (ie newspapers and magazines) to review my work, because they tend to not review Indie authors’ books. That said, my recent launch of the tenth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Iron Will, has been my most successful Indie-launch to date, and the income from book sales is in my bank account already – as opposed to my receiving a much smaller percentage of the cover price in about six months’ time.

So the “old model” is, in fact, changing (print on demand, online sales) about as much as I think it will. The lists of “bestselling books” are still there, but they’ve always been out of reach for most authors in any case, even if they are published by traditional publishing houses, unless they are the recipients of the huge investment each house chooses to make in a few, select names (a huge advance means a huge promotional budget, in the hopes sales will recoup the investment by the publisher).

I don’t know what else will change, but I just hope readers keep looking for, finding, and reading books they enjoy. While I am now hands-on with every stage in the publishing process, my desire is to write books people read…and I just hope I can keep a balance between the writing and the business to be able to continue to do that.

So, no real answer…but the best response I can muster.

You can find out all about my books here:


Unknown said...

Thanks Cathy for this frank, helpful look at the challenges and rewards of Indy/hybrid publishing, and your hard look at traditional publishers.

Susan C Shea said...

Wow, Cathy, you have really aced (pun intended) this business! Thanks for the information-packed post.

James W. Ziskin said...

Excellent post, Cathy! Thank you!

Clea Simon said...

Thanks for this, Cathy! I don't think most readers are aware of what's going on. Hell, most of us writers have a hard time keeping up (and belated thanks, yet again, for talking me through the process... one of these days I'll get that lost series back into print with a new book, and it'll be because of you.)

Sandy in St Louis said...

Cathy, I write/edit the monthly newsletter for Writers and Publishers Network. I put a link to your Big Girl Panties article in the August newsletter because I think it can be a big help to other writers. Thanks for giving such a clear perspective.

Cathy Ace said...

Hello folks - for some reason I have been unable to respond to this blog post - ironic, right!? So here goes. Ken: thanks :-) Susan: thanks :-) LOL! Jim: you're welcome :-) Clea: so pleased it helps (yes, get them and do that!) :-) bamgosoowm: glad you found it useful :-) Sandy: hope it helps someone...anyone! :-)

Leslie Karst said...

Thank you, Cathy--terrific, insightful, helpful post! Big girl panties are not for sissies.

Unknown said...

Hi Cathy I am a member of CWA and CRA in the uk and have had my adult fictional crime published by https://www.penitpublicationsLLC in the USA and I found after many years I found a publisher who published my books for nothing?,I paid penit nothing and even today they have never asked for payment?. The other publisher who has three of my other books is also genuine and I have never paid one cent to USA.Robert James Bridge Author uk and member of CWA and CRA UK.