Please note that this series is written in fun. If you don’t like hints of sarcasm and hyperbole don’t read this series. If you find the title offensive, don’t read this series. However, if you understand that this is a great time to be a writer of fiction and feel like a lone happy person in a tsunami of fear, read on.
“Every time you think you’ve been screwed by publishers in every possible way, you meet one who has read the Kama Sutra.” Cathy Crimmins
Writers have opinions—especially about other writers. Some like Michael Stackpole in his various posts think of them as “house slaves”, Sarah Hoyt compares them to abused wives as in the post “He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher” while Dean Wesley Smith just think they’re stupid (but he’s doing his best to help).
You already know what I think. I think writers are crazy. And in this group, some seem to be confusing themselves with ladies of the night.
“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.” Moliere
And obviously the publishing world agrees. Publishers seem to be in a race to create The Best Little Whore House—I mean Assisted Self-publishing House–in the city.
Companies like Penguin’s new ‘assisted self-publishing’ Book Country is nothing new. Like Harlequin Horizons–I mean Dellarte Press–you get to choose (i.e. pay for) different self-publishing packages and because they’re being so good to you, they’ll also take a percentage of your royalty. Now doesn’t that sound fair? Sure…like bending over to get screwed then paying for that brief moment (pleasure?) for the rest of your life sounds fair.
Writer: “But Dara, they’re publishers and they could help me get my work out.”
Statements like this lead me to my next lesson for writers.
Crazy Lesson #5
Artists place value on their work. Writers place value on their publishers.
Okay, it’s like an artist getting her work professionally framed. Proper framing is important because showing ones art is about presentation. A good frame makes a piece of artwork more marketable. It’s essential and takes a special skill. So let’s look a little closer. Say an artist gets their work framed and then the framer says, “Now pay me $500 for the frame and each licensing right you sell.” Yes, that’s right. So what the ‘framer’ is saying to the artist is, “When I frame your work I now own it (the copyright). If you create a lithograph, use the image on a bookmark, on a poster, a wall hanging, floor tiles, or plates then I expect to see a check in the mail for every sale made because I framed that picture and helped make it marketable. You couldn’t do it without me.”
The artist would walk away.
The writer, however, in a similar situation says:
“Sign me up.”
“Sign me up to pay for a service I can do myself for free.”
“Charge me exorbitant fees because I’m too lazy…I mean tired/scared…to find out what different services really cost.”
“Take my rights away with a smile and a promise that you’ll hold my hand through the entire process because I know that my work means more to you than pleasing your shareholders.”
“I need you because I’m just a lowly writer and you’re a big powerful publisher who will look out for me and protect me from scam artists.”
When I recently told a friend of mine about ‘assisted self-publishing’ and some of the shady promises publishers are promoting he replied, “Oh yea. They’re like pimps, right?” I paused, a little stunned by the comparison, then had to think for a minute. He had a point.
Prostitutes make the same argument as some writers do for why they need pimps. They do all the work and pay the pimp for ‘protection’.
“At least I have a pimp. You don’t know how scary it is without one. He takes good care of me.”
“It’s hard being out there on your own. I’m not smart enough.”
“I can make more money with a pimp than without one.”
And of course the pimps love this loyalty because it’s not that hard to get. Once you get one prostitute you keep her pay low (and the drug addiction high) so that you keep her under control. And you remind her how she’ll never make it without you.
Pimps, excuse me, some publishers do the same. They keep the writer’s pay low (tying up as many rights that they can) and keep the fear level high so that they keep them under control.
How to Reclaim your Sanity
Do your homework.
First, with the internet available 24/7 there’s no excuse not to do your research. There are some GREAT services out there if you want to independently publish. Learn the difference. (Read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s article to understand more.)
Second, please understand that you’re not in the book industry. You’re in the intellectual rights industry. Get a copy of The Copyright Handbook. Your story is more than just words—it’s an enterprise (think sub rights like audio, large print, dramatic, foreign). Understand that one story can mushroom into an industry. Don’t believe me then please tell me what Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Twilight are all about.
Third, know that nobody really cares. It’s not because they’re mean, but publishing is all about business. If someone can make money off of your ignorance they will. If I were heartless I could make a lucrative living fleecing writers of their good hard cash. Don’t believe me? One assisted self publisher charges $204.00 for copyright registration, another closer to $400. If you do it yourself, you only pay $35 for online registration and $50 for offline. Your choice.
Stop seeking validation.
Readers don’t care about publishers. They care about good stories. I recently read a great book I enjoyed and I remember the author’s name, but not who published it. Why? Because I don’t care. As a reader do you only read books by one publisher? Are you loyal to publishers or authors? You don’t need permission to be a writer. You don’t need someone to anoint you. Yes, it’s good for the ego, but really not necessary. Your job is to write. Make your work available for readers whether traditionally and/or not and then write your next work. That’s it. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
If you don’t respect yourself, why should anyone else? If you don’t realize you’re holding a golden nugget and sell it to someone for the price of brass, that’s your fault not theirs. Your stories matter. Your ability to make a living from your work matters. Recognizing your weakness and partnering with people who have your best interest in mind, matters. Not falling for the fairy tale that someone with a thousand potential clients will be your new best friend, matters. You matter. Believe it.
© 2012 Dara Girard