Sunday, January 13, 2013

Closing Doors


     The news of yet another lesbian publisher closing its doors is not something I like to see. I don’t know the reasons for the closing. Sometimes the reasons are tied to the health of the person who keeps things rolling. That is always sad and unfortunate for everyone concerned. But more often, it is because the business has ceased to thrive. Can’t keep the doors open, if you can’t pay the bills.
     Some people might think that as a self-published author, I’m over here with a self-satisfied smirk, mumbling under my breath, “I told you so.” I’m not. Well, not smirking anyway. I don’t want to see publishers going under. It isn’t good for lesbian fiction and it certainly isn’t good for the authors that signed with them. Despite my success as a self-published author, I would sign with a publisher if – and that is a big if – I saw an advantage to doing so. So far, I see an industry that needs to make some changes, and those slow to do so will be the next to bow out.
     What would make me sign with a publisher? What would prompt me to give up the 70-30 split I have with Amazon? What would entice me to give up the complete control self-publishing affords me? Why the publisher of my dreams, of course. And what would that look like, you may ask? I’ll tell you. I’m sure publishers do provide many of the things of which I dream, but I want it all in one bundle. Too selfish? Too self absorbed? Maybe, but if I’m giving up some of my pie, I’m of the mind that I should get some whip cream to go with my remaining share in return. My speaking openly about the business side of writing may take some of the romance out of the profession, but the sad truth is, publishing is a business. Gone are the days of the starving writer, while the publisher eats most of the pie. We're pulling up to the table, ladies. Pass the whip cream. 
     The publisher of my dreams would give me the time to write, taking care of all the things that distract from that. They would manage my website, custom made for me, not a cookie cutter template used for all the authors under their wing. They would handle publicity, and that doesn’t mean a generic announcement on Facebook and other social media sites. It means sending well-written press releases to all the major outlets serving the lesbian community. It means following up those releases, arranging interviews, book reviews, award entries, and public appearances. It means networking and championing the authors in their flock, and finding a way to make each one feel important, worthy of their time. I realize a certain amount of self-promotion falls on every author, but I see my author friends, who have signed with publishers, still doing all the things I do and for a much smaller piece of pie.
     I mentioned control earlier. That’s a biggie. Right now, I write what I want, when I want, and publish on my own schedule. I see no reason to hold a book ready for production, just to fit into somebody else’s idea of a publishing schedule. What, are they afraid there will be too many books to choose from? As Duck Dynasty’s Uncle Si would say, “Hey, wake up, Jack.” Has the explosion of titles in recent years not taught the publishers anything? These readers are voracious. There aren’t enough books to satisfy them. No way in hell you’re going to flood the engine and stall the car. So what, if you have a writer that produces a book every two years and one that writes three in twelve months. Forcing that prolific writer to wait in line certainly makes self-publishing more attractive.
     The publisher provides the author with an editor in most contracts. I think every author’s dream is an editor they can trust wholeheartedly, an editor that understands their style, their voice, and wants nothing more than to help tell the story the best way possible. They are the shoulder needed on some occasions and the voice of reason on others. They help hone and sharpen the author’s tools. They hold up the mirror every author needs to look into from time to time. Now, this editor is not one that is so swamped by other people’s manuscripts that they have no time to really work individually with any of them. This dream editor is paid well to handle a few authors and keep them all working and happy. An overworked, underpaid editor can’t be good for business. Again, as a self-published writer, I don’t wait in line. To be completely above board here, the editor I have been using has now taken a position with a publisher. It hasn’t been a problem, but should it be, we’ll part ways amicably and I’ll go find one willing to work on my schedule. Good editors are in demand, and I realize they must have steady work to make a living, but turn around time is something I would consider before hiring anyone. I’m not asking that an editor drop everything for me. Waiting weeks is doable. Waiting extended months between editing passes, not so much. I pay well and pay often, and am willing to pay more for speed and efficiency. The faster we work together the more books we produce and the more money there is to be made. Happy readers, happy author, happy editor, happy, happy, happy. (I confess, I love Duck Dynasty.)
     I would never sign with a publisher that held the e-book release back, while trying to make money off readers with over-priced print books. Print books are expensive to produce and distribute. The old warehouse model of printing books is a dead issue. It’s an expense that is neither necessary nor profitable. Print-on-demand alleviates the cost of printing books that end up taking up space in a warehouse, while the author makes no money and the publisher is out the expense. In the modern world, a person pushes a button on the Internet, pays for the book, a machine prints it, and it gets put in a box and shipped. It’s not rocket science folks. It’s progress. Holding off on e-book releases strikes me as counter productive. While I do have readers who prefer print, far more often, people who purchase my print books have read them as e-books first. Because print books cost more to produce and I don’t like charging out the ass for a paperback, I set my prices as low as my print-on-demand distributor will allow. I understand that printing in bulk is less expensive per copy, but weigh that against the cost of letting them sit on shelves or in boxes unsold. I make pennies on print books and offer them only as a service to readers who want them. Print makes up less than 3% of my total sales. I don’t seek out print outlets, because, let’s face the reality here, they aren’t lining up outside the bookstore for my new release. They are downloading off the Internet and getting it much faster. The e-book market is more fluid, easier to manage, and meets the demands of the instant gratification world we live in. The publishers are in this to make money. I get that, but playing games with the readers is going to backfire on them. You can already hear the rumblings of revolt.
     If I sign with a publisher, I lose control of pricing. That would be a big consideration as well. I charge less for my e-books than most of the “publishers,” not because I don’t think people would pay more for my novels or that my self-published work is any less valuable than that of a “published” author. I still have the same expenses they do for producing a book. I pay for an editor, cover art, publicity, formatting, distribution, etc., and the more mundane utilities and such. I produce a product that is obviously in demand. (Don’t believe it when they say you can’t make a living selling lesbian fiction. If you write books people want to read, you can. It’s as simple as that.) The reason I don’t charge as much is a personal one. My newest e-books are not the cheapest out there, but they are still a dollar less than what I could charge. My older books are less expensive and I’ve started dropping the prices on them as they age. I remember having no money and what a luxury it was to buy a newly released favorite author’s book. It’s the same reason I get pissed at the gas pump, when the prices rise and fall at some corporate whim. How much profit is too much? Publishers scream about Amazon keeping the prices too low with their $9.99 ceiling on e-books. (These are the same people that want you to go to their website and pay much more for their product than they can charge on Amazon, supposedly because the author gets more money. That may be true, but I'm not paying nearly $20 for a paper back book, not even my own. This practice smacks of manipulation and mendacity toward the hand that feeds them.) I’m doing just fine. Maybe publishers need to look at how they do business if they are losing money on at Amazon, and pay special attention to that chapter on supply, demand, and how they are affected by pricing. Selling more at a cheaper price usually makes a higher profit margin in the long run. I didn’t make that up. I actually paid attention in that class. I think the guy at Amazon probably read that chapter too. So, why should I gouge the readers because I can? It’s not that I devalue what I do. I make a very comfortable living as it is. I feel no need to take more than what I consider my fair share. Sure, I’d love to be wealthy beyond my dreams. I’d like to win the lottery too, but then maybe I have. I am fortunate to be able to do what I love. I owe something back. That may sound like socialism to some. I call it karma.
     I just have to stop here and say, “BUNK” to those that buy only from “publishers,” because of the perceived notion that if the book was any good it would have been “published.” There are some pretty big names out there in the self-published world these days. If things don’t change, which is the point of this blog, there will be a whole lot more self-published success stories. There is a new breed of author and editor team out there. Technology is making the ability to self-publish easier every day. True, that makes it convenient for people to slap a cover on some blank, or what should be blank, pages and sell them. Be a smart shopper. Download the samples and see what is between the covers. If an author won’t show you a sample of their work, move on, nothing to see here. Simply dismissing someone because they chose to self-publish is as much a head in the sand stance as pretending the e-book is not here to stay. Maybe they are digging in the sand for those 8-track tapes they had back in the day.
     So, my dream publisher would make my life easier, provide me with support, a good editor, a publishing schedule I could live with, and catch up to the changing world of technology. I would never feel as though I was one among many, waiting on hold, while my muse runs off with another woman, because I couldn’t get the help I needed in a timely fashion. My royalty checks would arrive on time with a complete accounting. I understand that is a big issue with the “published” crowd. Not a problem I deal with. I can see my sales by the hour. I know exactly how much my check will be every month. There is real security in that. And if Amazon shut down tomorrow, the technology exists to sell from my own website, keeping all the royalties. I choose to let Amazon sell my books and not have to deal with it. That is worth 30% to me. I’d be handing that over to my dream publisher gladly, maybe more. After all, if I’m happy, I’m writing, and that makes me happy. See how that works?
     I’d like to see the publishers take a good hard look at how they do business. What are you doing to help your authors be happy? Are you keeping up with technology? Are you doing all you can? Are you reaping the benefits of that prolific writer, or making them wait in line, losing money because of it? Have you grown too big to give the attention necessary to each author’s work, become an assembly line of carbon copy covers and editorial decisions? Do your editors have the time to spend with the author needed to produce the best novel possible? Are you listening to the readers and taking notes? Or are you scrambling to find out why your authors are turning to self-publishing, because after all, what have you done for them lately? My hat is off to any writer and publisher that have found this utopia together. But to those who still insist on keeping the lion’s share of the pie, without sweetening the pot with some tender loving care and nurturing of their authors – don’t look now, the doors are closing.

8 comments:

  1. There are some authors I've lost interest in because I have to wait too long for their new works; or when new works are released I have to wait for the e-book at a price I am willing to pay. I understand that many authors of lesfic have full time jobs to 'pay the bills' and don't have the luxury of being a full time writer but your piece makes me wonder if more prolific authors are being held back to fit some sort of schedule that they had no part in creating.
    I feel sorry for people in the industry who lose their jobs for any reason. Having said that I know that in this world if you do not adjust to the expectations and demands of the customer lots more jobs will be lost. There is no charity or slack to be given for those who do not adjust to the times. If you have any question about that go to the nearest Woolworth's, have a seat at the lunch counter and order up a Coke for a dime.
    Thanks for taking that leap at self-publishing. Your readers thank you for it.

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    1. Thank you for that heartfelt comment. I've said this elsewhere, I do not want to see lesbian publishing fail. I want to see it set the standard for the new publishing model, one beneficial to everyone concerned.

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  2. I had no idea what a writer's wish list for a publisher would look like. Thanks for going into detail and examining the business model. You acumen has turned into a business that you can thrive with, financially and in tune with your muse.

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    1. It's a very self absorbed list, I know, but what artist isn't self absorbed.

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  3. Very interesting information. One of my childhood friends is an author. She has the same frustrations with publishers, has chosen the self publishing route and launching her books in the e-book format. She continues to insist that I should consider writing. Beyond editing my high school newspaper and the technical writing I perform in my job, I have no experience. The issues that you pointed out above, are the things that keep me from attempting that. I have long dreamed of working from home, tending my gardens, raising chickens, bees, flowers and such now that my son is in college. I work full time and attend graduate school online, seeking my Master's in Nursing, and an Advanced Practice Nurse,Geriatrics.....but that old dream of writing still burns within. I admire your savvy R.E.B.!

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    1. When the call to write becomes to loud to ignore, you will write. You will write on napkins and the backs of envelopes, but you will write. and when the time comes, you will collect those things and write them for others to see. You are living your material, write it down.

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    2. Thanks for the in depth information on this publishing industry. My friend, Taylor James, is a successful, self published author. she wears me out with all that she does to keep abreast of the industry and the requirements of the readers, etc. I tease her telling her she is a genius, I believe the same of all you who self publish.

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  4. Very helpful and interesting information, Decky. Many thanks! And I don't think you are at all self-absorbed. Saying what you need and want to support you in being a successful writer isn't self-absorbed. It is smart and publishers should be paying attention. The industry is changing so rapidly that it makes one's head spin and to ignore what authors and readers want to make a few more bucks is just plain foolish. And amen on the editing! Everyone needs a good editor and one that pays attention. Thanks for doing it your way and giving us such wonderful books in the process. A publisher would be damn lucky to have you, but you are probably much better off the way you are.

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