This is a great video by Jane Friedman that provides some historical perspective on the publisher-author relationship and how publishers might improve it today. Her post is called, Do You Love Your Publisher? Author Survey Results.
I am going to summarize what I think is the biggest problem with the author-publisher relationship, from the point of view of the author.
I think it’s the same problem that has always existed with authors and publishers, and it’s an attitude I have been addressing for a long time.
When authors have a “take care of everything and I’ll just write the book attitude,” this does not serve them or publishers.
Jane does a great job in her video of showing how some of the most successful and lasting authors have historically taken books sales into their own hands. Or at least these authors have done what they could to move the needle on book sales with the resources available to them at the time.
The biggest problem potential authors have is a system that is still put in place to perpetuate the idea of “just get discovered and then everything will be all right.”
Look in two places to find this attitude and confront it. First, look for the myth of the rags-to-riches author in the media and in educational outlets for aspiring authors. Do you find stories of “my life was nothing but then I got a publisher, got published, and now I live on easy street and you can, too”?
This story is a lie. There is nothing in this story that is true, so reject it at once whenever and wherever you encounter it. Even if this was seemingly another person’s experience, do not expect to be able to imitate it.
The second place you have to look for this mythology is inside your own mind. If you have a “dream” of becoming an author some day, you will likely be disappointed with the entire process. Becoming an author is not a dream, it’s work, and very hard work.
Getting an idea out of your head and onto the page in a saleable manner and then getting various forms of books into readers’ hands is also a lot of work. It always has been and it always will be. And even then your job as an author is not done. Once the book is done and in people’s hands, you still have to solicit feedback and partner with others who can help you promote and sell your book.
Anne Lamott has a list of life-long advice circulating on the Internet right now. Here’s what she says in it about publishing:
Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly-evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1.). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing.
At the end of the day, the “dream” of becoming an author comes up very short when the fantasy is compared to the reality. Do not take advice from anyone who is trying to sell you on the idea that authorhood is easy or that you will become rich from it. These are not reputable coaches. These are hucksters.
Jane shows us how there has historically always been a disconnect between the author fantasy and the author reality. Anne Lamott echoes the failure of publishing to make writers whole. Of course, publishing cannot heal us. But we have to be honest with ourselves about what we are trying to achieve by publishing in order to suss out this false hope in ourselves.
But in her video, Jane hints that the dynamics of publishing are shifting in the digital age. She suggests that independent authors are doing better at collaborating with each other than publishing houses are doing partnering with their authors.
The growth of the indie author movement is teaching authors what we always needed to learn: how to stop fantasizing about being taken care of and how to take business matters into our own hands.
I think it’s time for authors to take publishing off it’s pedestal and put it back where it belongs, where it has always belonged.
Partnering with a traditional publisher is one option a writer has. It is one option of many options. If you don’t have any skills besides writing when you partner with a publisher, then you need to educate yourself. You need to think big picture, not just little picture. You need to follow advice coming from people like Jane Friedman and myself to make sure that you have your expectations in the right place from the get-go. If your expectations are not healthy, your actions will follow them.
To say this another way, don’t let your personal power become dwarfed in partnering with publishers, writers.
Take a note from indie authors, and use any book publishing occasion as an opportunity to build and improve your business skills.
Do not jettison personal responsibility for your publishing success, just because you have a publisher. This will always lead to disappointment.
Better yet, if you have not yet taken 110% responsibility for your publishing success, do it now. And don’t ever let anyone take that responsibility away from you.
Watch Jane’s video and consider how much better your long-term writing and publishing journey will become when you commit to steering your ship, and not turning over the wheel to anyone else to feed an old fantasy that never had any basis in reality anyway.