Publishers’ Advice and Other Bad Ideas

never-let-a-fox-in-the-hen-houseOrdinarily I believe that everyone can teach us something. Listening to the experiences of those who have gone before us can shorten the path to our goals. The publishing industry has seen such rapid changes and with change always comes people willing to shell out advice on how to capitalize. The thing that hasn’t changed is the advice that when considering advice always consider the source. If the advisor has a personal stake in the outcome then you have to take the suggestions with the proverbial “grain of salt.” That is, consider the advisor’s motive and what he hopes to influence in terms of the outcome. If you’re thirsty I’m certain the fine folks at Coca Cola would be happy to advise you on beverage selection. If you’re an independent author I’m certain a publisher will be happy to advise you on the proper path.

I came upon such advice this morning as a I read a post by a writer who runs a small press publishing company. Normally, I shuck off bad advice as just one person’s opinion that perhaps worked for that person. As a business professional and one who has been involved in several “start-ups,” I was so offended by the article I felt the need to change today’s post. I’ll start you off with my own contention—Taking Self Publishing advice from a traditional publisher is a mistake. Here’s why:

Publishers of any size do not like the tilt of the power axis in publishing. The publishing industry has lost a lot of ground, most of their profits, and some of the best authors are moving to independent publishing. It’s not that any one Indie author posses a threat, but as a collective self-publishing hurts both traditional publishing’s bottom line and creates havoc in the previously very one-sided contracts they enjoyed. Each time a Self-published book rises among the ranks, it is more evidence that a traditional contract is unnecessary. They would prefer we all just go away.

Publishers are now actively (through their small press off shoots) watching the independents and trying to find the rising stars and “take them under their wing.” It’s money and authority. Amazon has beat them at the publishing game and they are trying to hold on to the last of their life blood. If they can convince you that they know best, that definitely will service their best interests.

So back to the publisher article which angered me to the point of writing this strongly worded letter.

Within the article was some good advice—well two pieces of good advice. Keep improving on your craft and ensure you approach your work in a professional manner e.g. Editing and book cover. The rest of the article was B.S.. It employed both a fallacy of logic, mongered “fear of the unknown” by suggesting unnecessary requirements, and suggested strategies even publishers don’t use with any degree of consistency. The goal of the article was to suggest you should not self-publish. It was disguised, by its title, as a “helpful” article to assist in your decision making—much as we’d expect Coke to provide helpful advice in deciding between colas.

The publisher, Steven Booth, begins with a fallacy of logic. He states that he tells every author “if the work isn’t good enough for a publisher, it probably isn’t good enough to be self-published.” He goes on to suggest only “if” a publisher wants to publish it, should you consider self-publishing.” Really? So the logic here is that only a publisher can decide if your work is “good enough.” They are the gate keepers—this is the exactly what they want. They want first crack at all the work and then they want to define the market. If we followed this advice there would be no self-publishing. He is basically advising that we put traditional publishers back in charge. To which I remind him the number of well-selling books originally ignored by publishers.

Of course he does note that if a publisher “really likes the work” but can’t see how to market it, you might want to push forward. He even writes how often with a “twinge of regret in his heart” he has turned away great writers. Sounds like a twinge of stupidity. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to suggest all the big…and unnecessary…requirements of self-publishing to demonstrate “how scary the world of publishing is.” I’ll share with you some of the gems.

1. A fictitious name for your business and a business license for your municipality. An author, in most states is considered a sole proprietor. The income you generate is simply a part of your personal income, taxed accordingly, and you can take all the legal deductibles for your enterprise. You don’t need to “name” it or license it unless you are selling books from a book stand in your driveway…and even that you can call a garage sale. This is just scare tactics. As is the unnecessary requirement to open a separate bank account. The money I receive from Create Space, Amazon, Paypal, and Smashwords goes directly into my checking account. The costs I incur come from the same place. The article is trying to make this harder than required  to dissuade the average writer who has little business experience. It’s not only bad advice, it is materially as fictitious as the business name he is suggesting.

2. Work on marketing your book at least once a day just like publishers do. Again, there is no requirement as to how often you market. Certainly daily is not required. I run three corporate marketing programs. I’ve increase website traffic and leads by 1000% over the past two years (that’s not a typo-one thousand!). We don’t market every day. We run a weekly blog and a monthly email campaign. We build relationships and that builds business. More importantly, tell me the last time you saw an Ad for a book that wasn’t by an Indie Author. I’m not certain what this “daily” marketing is, but I’m not being inundated by Ads from any small press and certainly none from the “Big 5” publishers. Maybe that is going on behind the scenes and I’m just not on their mailer. Or maybe its just a lot of quid pro quo that Indie authors are unaware. There’s only one reason Self Published Books are in B&N…they hate Amazon and by default Create Space.

3. Shop your book and write ten more until you get a contract. I think writing more is a good idea. Having a catalog helps overall sales. But to advise you write ten but don’t publish until a publisher “gives you their permission” is the exact opposite spirit of Indie Publishing. To assume that you aren’t really good enough until you’ve written some ten books is both presumptuous on the part of this publisher and not based in any evidence at all. Plenty of authors are great on the first at-bat. Plenty of traditionally published books are bad. Again the real point this article is making is an Indie Author can’t be good enough because a publisher has not said the author is good enough.

I’m certain the article’s author, Steven Booth, had the best intentions when providing his advice. He can’t help but believe he is better than you because he runs a small press and co-authored with someone who won an award. I like numbers though. I like when you can provide evidence for your argument. Mr Booth’s book ranks about 165,000 at Amazon. My book ranks about 640,000 in the same category. Both Mr Booth and I know that the difference means nothing at those rankings and that the real money is in the world of Top 100. That being said, nothing in the numbers suggest he is doing better than me and it is likely that his cost of getting to 165K probably means he is enjoying far less financial gain. As a final point, Mr. Booth writes Zombie books. Based on his logic he shouldn’t publish them because none of the Big 5 Publishers will touch a zombie book.

So ends my rant with my own piece of advice. Go ahead and submit your work to a publisher. But if you really believe in your story. If you really feel it is a professional presentation of your ability. If you aren’t willing to wait for someone’s permission or a blessing from the very folks who are struggling to survive the changes in publishing, then go ahead and self publish. And if you still think that the traditional method is the only one that works then I’ll point to Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and a dozen other people who wouldn’t put aside their dreams simply because the establishment told them “it’s not done that way.”

You can read Mr. Booth’s Bad advice here – http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/02/steven-booth/#comment-67996


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