Publishers: Why Are You Creating Huge Followings For Those Who Might Soon Be Putting You Out of Business?

by @thewritermama on February 5, 2010 · 9 comments

Well, I wasn’t going to publish this because it feels fairly controversial. But then I read Mike Shatzkin’s post on Why are you for killing bookstores? And at the end he said:

The book business has always been one with very low financial barriers to entry. Ebook publishing makes getting into the game even cheaper. It is also going to bring increased competition to book publishers from content-creators outside publishing.

Pay attention to that last line. It’s future tense, right? But from what I’m seeing, it’s not in the future at all. Increased competition has already been happening and it’s been happening in spades since the New Year.

Fear of authors developing and owning their own platforms seemed to be a concern at Digital Book World and, at first, this fear struck me as paranoid and ungrounded. I have a few semi-developed thoughts for publishers on whom to partner with and whom to not partner with moving forward in this brave new world of publishing.

Publishers would be wise to choose their authors carefully because every contract signed represents a partnership. And the more we see a spike in folks whose clear intention is to use Internet publishing tools to get rich quickly to make the most of their peaking visibility, so the need also increases to talk about how much this has to do with leveraging the stamp of approval granted by traditional publishers.

Specifically, I suggest that publishers do not to partner with authors who would seemingly like to see them go out of business. The folks whose behavior concerns me most belong to certain crowds: the infopreneur crowd, the blogger crowd, and the pirate crowd. What these people have on their sides are:

  • Speed
  • Networks of people who have large networks of people
  • And lots of jargon that they use to hypnotize people before they hard-sell them

Seems to me that there are a large number of people online, who have risen up in competition with traditional publishers…and ironically, some of them have recently become traditionally published authors.

I mentioned, who I am talking about, so I want to be clear who I’m NOT talking about:

I’m not talking about self-published authors, who are making a go of producing themselves. Those budding platform-building skills are going to come in handy once/when those authors become traditionally published. I absolutely don’t see self-published authors as a threat to traditional publishing. (Perhaps Harlequin is on to something with their new vanity press arm? Not really sure yet.)

I’m also not suggesting that because a traditional author self-publishes some of his or her own work, that he or she is a threat to traditional publishing. Far from it, I think this only expands the authors’ reach and connection with fans, which is good for future book sales of any type (assuming the author does a decent job self-publishing).

I believe that authors should retain rights to the majority of their body of work and only partner with publishers on a project-to-project basis. This keeps everybody on best behavior and prevents authors from becoming perpetual indentured servants to publishers.

I think multiple book contracts need to go away all together, so that authors can choose to partner with publishers for the right reasons–because they want to and it’s win-win–and not because they have been indentured by a multi-book contract. But this is really another topic…I digress.

Back on point, I’m also not talking about authors like Cory Doctorow. I think Cory partners with publishing professionals and the public in an open, guileless, transparent way—not at all similar to the ways that authors who I suspect would like to put publishers out of business. These are those who are using time limits, disappearing billboards, and escalating price points to divide and conquer.

Other signals of desperation include infomercial-like landing pages that scroll on and on for days, the constant hard sell in close proximity to the otherwise widely admired charismatic author, and the promise of six-figure secrets to those buy in–but only if you buy in now.

I think anybody who promised their spouse last year that they would be making six figures by now wants to save face. So off they go to chase down the next pot of gold at the end of the blog-your-brains-out rainbow. Have we had enough of these wild goose success blueprints yet?

Please. Say. Yes.

In the meantime, you can buy legitimately helpful tools in the form of books over at your local bookstore for ten to twenty bucks. Or even take them out at the library for free. But in this new marketplace such antiquated behaviors are not sexy anymore. Not to the cool kids anyway. No, no. They want the latest info-products, tele-classes, and other whatnots from whoever has recently been blessed…by your published authors.

And like Mike Shatzkin said, you don’t have to go to the bookstores for these, because, like e-books, you can’t buy them there. And when you buy them in lieu of purchasing books from traditional publishing, you aren’t just putting bookstores out of business. You are putting publishers out of business, too.

As you can probably tell, I’ve hit my limit. And I’ve lost faith in several people I formerly held in newly minted esteem. That’s pretty much over for me about as quickly as it started over the past, oh, twelve months. I don’t need your third-tribe-jargon-stuffed-cool-kids-better-buy-now-garbage-overload-hard-sell with a little insider wink to seal the sale.

I’ve never bought in and I sure don’t plan on starting now. And I’m one of the lucky ones because all I’ve lost is time spent peering into my Google Reader.

Pay attention, publishers. Watch out for authors who turn into hard-sellers. Bottom line: Some of your authors do not look to partner with you. They look elsewhere to partner, and they take your stamp of approval with them and leverage the heck out of it for their own benefit and the benefit of their cronies.

To me, these authors seem bent on taking your good name, leveraging it for their own purposes, becoming publishers themselves, and creating a brave new online world where only the swiftest and the best hard-sell copywriters survive.

That means you are out, publishers. Did they forget to send you that memo?

Wake up. Look around. Subscribe to your author’s e-mail newsletters.

Some of your authors are partnering with you…and some of your authors are seemingly not.

I guess I’m just wondering: Why ARE you partnering with them?

And how’s that working out?

Or am I the only one who is wondering?

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  • Hm. I can appreciate where you're coming from here, C but as a fiction writer who also blogs, I'm slightly hurt by the suggestion to publishers that I'm not to be dealt with. I would love to be published (traditionally) and see my stories on the bookshelves. I'm unlikely to publish online because that just doesn't hold the same satisfaction for me. However I do like to blog about the process of my writing. Surely raising my visibility can only assist any publisher that might wish to partner with me.

    I also sell plays online to be used by amateur theatre groups, schools and other organisations as fundraisers. I keep prices low to assist in the fundraising. I make a pittance out of this venture. I'm certainly not in it to make a quick buck. Publishers aren't interested because my plays aren't performed by professional theatre companies.

  • Jenn

    As someone who will never be one of the cool kids, and is totally turned off and burnt out on the hype, too, I just have to say: Amen.

  • Merry Writer

    I'll agree with you, I've seen so many writers that aren't really even writers. They farm out the real work to a ghost writer and just sell, sell, sell. I'm also sick of seeing writers create blogs and websites in the pretense of wanting to help another author reach their potential. It's a scam at best, and writers should flee such sites.

  • cal0033

    As a yet-to-be traditionally published author, it seems a little harsh to lump all bloggers and infopreneurs together. Anyone who pays $297 for a “special report” rather than buy a $20 book deserves to be out the cash. However, breaking in is really hard (I've waited 2 weeks to hear back from a potential agent whether I will even be considered as a client so that I might get my work in front of a publisher). Maybe if it didn't seem like publishers were in ivory towers it would be less tempting to find alternate routes to success.

  • lissowerbutts

    Interesting take on the -cool-kidder-blogger-dudes – and yes I know exactly which offer sparked that comment. I must admit not to be an aspiring author in the traditional sense – but I write and publish on my own blogs. I think the whole industry evolving and fast – I sued to turn to published newspapers for news – now I use blog sites and online papers – books I think will be the next. Nto fiction but definitly non-fiction. I think tradtional travel guide book publishers are already seeing that – I don't own a fance cell phone – but there have been times lost in a foreign town I would have killed for an “app” to guide me to the nearest guest house or cheap reastaraunt!

  • You're going to catch some flack by not naming names on this one, but I have a pretty good idea of who you are and AREN'T talking about, and I totally agree. I've watched a few of them bounce around the conference circuit over the past year or two, using their traditionally published book as both validation and marketing device while they bash traditional publishers with sweeping generalizations, suggesting they don't serve any real purpose beyond a “free” printing press for quaint souvenirs of their ideas. It's annoying, hypocritical and, I think, starting to wear thin for a lot of people.

  • Honestly, this post confuses me, probably because I am not enough of an insider to know the details about the players involved. I thought Christina was a blogger (I'm reading it, right?). And many people become infopreneurs because the traditional publishing industry is so elitist, the average new writer might decide it isn't worth the difficulty to become affiliated. If becoming an infopreneur is a way for a writer to actually make a living, I'm all for it. Now if Christina is talking about someone who is the writing world equivalent of a snake oil salesperson, that is clearly a different matter. But those exploiters of human pain exist in all industries, yes?

  • melindaroos

    Why shouldn't authors develop their own platforms?

    Publishers are not the gods of the book business. The market is changing, they should step up to the plate. They can choose to work together with authors who develop rich content or they can choose to operate in the traditional sense — we all know where that will eventually end up.

    At the end of the day, its the readers who decide if they will pay for content online or not. Increased competition and various platforms can only be good for the consumers. What is wrong with that scenario?

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