Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Failure to Communicate? Or to Understand?

When you only read a few blogs, and a controversy on one blog spills over to another, it makes for an exciting few days of blog reading.

That’s what happened Monday when Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent whose opinions I listen to, posted about restrictive non-compete clauses insisted upon by publishers that will prevent contracted authors from simultaneously self-publishing. You can read about it here. As you will see from the comments, many people objected to what she wrote, including her title, “Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?”

Over at The Passive Voice blog, the Passive Guy chose to excerpt Rachelle’s post and follow it with some apt comments. You can see his post and the comments here. The discussion was lively, mostly negative to Rachelle’s position. TPV is generally favorable to self-publishing and negative to trade publishing, though I’ve found the blog owner to be more fair in his assessments than some other self-publishing gurus.

Now today, Rachelle felt the need to clarify what she wrote. You can see that here. Today she posted that her previous post was not a “this is what I believe” post but a “here’s how publishers think and behave” post. Understanding how publishers think and behave will make you a better negotiator of the author-publisher contract, she says. That was actually how I took her original post. While a few phrases in the original post could have been construed as favorable to the publishers’ position, e.g. “Publishers are rightfully concerned” (to the detriment of the author), those familiar with Rachelle’s larger body of posts would know that she is a faithful advocate for her writer clients.

But what is mostly missing from either of Rachelle’s posts but is mentioned in TPV comments is that the publishers are way out of touch with how readers find and buy content today. People find an author they like and stick with that person. If they could buy a book from an author every two months they would like to do that. Trade publishers would put out one book a year for the author. Readers will find someone else in the meantime. The days when an author published a book a year and her publisher had a mailing list of 75,000 who were fine waiting for the annual notice that a new volume was available are over.

One of the mantras of the self-publishing crowd is the best promotion for your book(s) is to write and publish another book. Rather than spend time on promoting already published books, write the next book and get it polished and published as quickly as you can. Six a year are better than four a year are better than three are better than two are better than one. So far this isn’t working for me, but my severe case of Genre Identity Disorder is most likely what’s causing that. Or maybe there just aren’t millions of people out there who like the same kind of books I like. But the anecdotal evidence that this method works is almost substantial enough to be statistical. So I’ll keep doing it and hope my GID works itself out over time.

If trade publishers were savvy about all this, and understood the changing nature of the book purchasing market, rather than restricting authors with non-compete clauses they would encourage their authors to also self-publish. They would say, “Because of production schedules and limitations, we can only publish one of your books a year. But because we know more books are better, feel free to publish a couple of other books in between the ones you publish with us. We will all profit more from you doing that.”

So why don’t the trade publishers do that? As I said, I think it’s because they don’t truly understand their market. But it’s also possible that they don’t want their authors learning just how easy self-publishing is and how much greater return there will be from it. That might lead some authors to say “Why do I even need a publisher?” If that’s what they’re thinking, it would be a scary scenario to them.

The divide in the writing-publishing community seems, in my observation, to be growing greater between trade publishing and self-publishing. I don’t really see it closing any time soon.

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