EXTRA ETHER: Will DIY Pay for R&D?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal Hour

Whom does it benefit if J.A. Konrath sells a lot of books? J.A. Konrath, that’s who.

And what’s wrong with that? Nothing at all. But:

No young mystery writer will be the indirect beneficiary of his sales figures. Nobody will.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal Hour

Eugenia Williamson

This is an interesting point, and it turns up right at the end of Eugenia Williamson’s four-click aria about self-publishing for the Boston Phoenix.com.

In fact, this is the point in Williamson’s commentary. It takes her a long time to get there, but it’s what’s meant by the headline, The dead end of DIY publishing.

While detractors who left comments on her piece seem to have read that headline to mean  we’re looking at the “dead end” of self-publishing, if you get right through to the final phrases, you realize that it’s talking about a kind of extinction potential — the “dead end” being a DIY-centric publishing community with little nourishment for new work and newcomers.

This is a point of debate about the industry! the industry! that we don’t hear much. If Williamson had spent more time on this issue she might have drawn a more thoughtful crowd.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Mike Shatzkin, George Washington University’s fifth annual Conference on Ethics and Publishing

The underlying assumption here is that in traditional publishing, it’s the blockbuster books that effectively generate what passes for research and development money, R&D. A major house can utilize the revenues of a monster seller to take risks on the young and the feckless, the debutantes and the dodgy, the genre-challenged and the passion players.

In the old publishing system— whatever its many faults — best sellers paid for the equivalent of research and development: the nurturing of young writers with a first book of short stories as well as critically worthy mid-list authors.

Now, here, I’ll offer four quick pre-emptive notes, because I don’t think we can accept Williamson’s premise — that traditional publishing has done this job of R&D — without some reservations:

  • No, we don’t know how much money may (or may not) have been spent by a major publisher during any given time period on lesser-known authors and works.
  • Yes, if we did know, we’d surely say it wasn’t enough. It is never enough.
  • No, the boards and corporate parents of the publishing houses weren’t likely wringing their hands over how many newcomers out there might need their help.
  • And yes, we’d be laboring on a different planet if we found out that using revenue to invest in other authors had occurred “for the love of literature” in these for-profit corporations.

Still, as the industry morphs and struggles, it’s the kind of question the best heads need to be ready to answer: In self-publishing, with every writer working for him- or herself, where does the R&D come from?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Mike Shatzkin, George Washington University’s fifth annual Conference on Ethics and Publishing

How many advances, even lackluster paltry ones, can Kickstarter replace?

John Mitchinson is cranking Unbound as fast as he can but that thing isn’t a pig farm.

Williamson writes:

This new model (self-publishing in general) sounds less like egalitarianism and more like the Bush administration, intent on outsourcing government jobs to private contractors. In both publishing models, somebody’s still paying, and in self-publishing, that someone is the author. That doesn’t seem especially meritocratic.

A Boon for Bidinotto

It won’t surprise regular Ethernauts to learn that comments on Williamson’s article are punctuated by the usual pitchfork-waving, spitoon-dinging dismissals. Gosh, she seems not to have asked the permission of the self-publishing community to write about these issues. Shame on her.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal Hour

Robert Bidinotto

Not even the article’s large picture of St. J.A. Konrath seems to mollify this bunch. And we find author Robert Bidinotto among the assembled naysayers.

The Ether covered Robert Bidinotto’s own wide-eyed description of his success when Amazon chose him, unexpectedly, for a post-Thanksgiving offer and shot his self-published thriller, Hunter, right out of a cannon.

Now, Bidinotto writes in a comment on Williamson’s article:

Had I followed the stupid advice of Ms. Williamson, the author of this snarky, factually challenged article, I never would have published my debut novel.

The “stupid advice?”

Williamson points out that there are genuine, deep challenges to any DIY route — as there are in traditional publishing — and that the success stories are not something that self-publishing authors in their thousands can all expect to replicate.

She’s hardly alone in bringing to light how difficult self-publication can be. Author Nancy J. Cohen did this, too, as we reported in the Fourth of July week edition of the Ether. Surely, a realistic experience of the digital disruption of publishing should concede that this is easy for nobody.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsMeanwhile, in this comment, Bidinotto touts being  a “#4 Kindle Bestseller,” a “1 Kindle Bestseller in ‘Mysteries and Thrillers,'” earning “six-figure royalties within two months,” and achieving “financial salvation for my wife and me, and a new career as a novelist, in the wake of sudden unemployment at the age of 62.”

In another comment on this same story (he comes by twice), Bidinotto writes:

I have yet to pay one penny for advertising, yet that hasn’t prevented HUNTER from becoming a bestseller, with over 67,000 copies sold within its first year of release since late June 2011.

And yet in that Ether coverage of Bidinotto’s interview with Jennie Coughlin, he said:

“I had no advance warning that they (Amazon) planned to feature my book as an ‘Editors’ Pick’—in fact, their #1 editors’ selection—for the entire week!”

Some extremely good luck fell on Bidinotto. And we’re all seriously happy for him, of course. Who doesn’t want to see the power of Seattle’s algorithms work so well for authors? But his was a windfall of rare proportion, the combination of being singled out for a “Big Deal” holiday promotion and for an “Editors’ Pick” blessing at once. This is hardly representative of what most authors — self-publishing or not — can anticipate.

Too frequently, the counter to a serious question of stewardship in the industry’s future is the recitation of an anecdotal anomaly.

The rude, the mad, and the ugly

Whether or not she’s dispensing “stupid advice,” Williamson’s biggest sin may be to point out that the vociferous component to the self-publishing community — exactly the sneering, tone she triggers in some of the people commenting on her post. She writes:

Some self-published authors talk about the current developments in militaristic terms: it’s a battle. It’s a war. It’s a revolution that will lead to the death of the publishing industry. Accordingly, the self-publishing sphere has rebranded itself “indie publishing,” even though its venue, Amazon, is the largest, most dominant corporate force in the book world.

And she does bring up the daunting odds:

For every Joe Konrath, there are many thousands of self-published authors who’ll never see much revenue from their books.

The general tenor of the responses to her piece run along the lines of respondent Ty Unglebower’s opener:

The idea that the author of this article got paid to write something so clearly biased, unsubstantiated, outdated and incorrect says more about the problems in the world of writers than self-publishing does.

Shatzkin weighs in

You’ll find that industry consultant Mike Shatzkin has mentioned the same author-investment point, as well, in his talk at George Washington University’s fifth annual Conference on Ethics and Publishing.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal HourShatzkin is with Idea Logical and the national and international Publishers Launch conferences he mounts with Publishers Marketplace’s Michael Cader.

He has made his slide deck available from that talk, under the title How the DoJ’s misunderstandings could destroy publishing, and why it’s worth saving. Even if you don’t agree with Shatzkin’s take on the overall situation, it’s worth your time to go through his slides because this is a comprehensive and yet concise explication of traditional publishing’s arguments.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsOf special interest is the clarity we begin to get from Shatzkin these days on Amazon. In his recent post, Royalty Share CEO Bob Kohn alleges DoJ violates the Tunney Act, he writes that he doesn’t believe, as some suggest, that “I don’t see ‘collusion’ between DoJ and Amazon as the most likely explanation for the suit and the disaster the settlement could engender.”

In fact, referring to the George Washington speech, he writes:

I want to repeat only one point from that speech here. Amazon’s behavior is self-serving, but it is not evil! It is both futile and wrong to blame something in Amazon’s character for the industry’s troubles. Amazon’s shareholders are not primarily interested in the health and well-being of the book publishing ecosystem; they are primarily interested in the growth of Amazon’s value.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Mike Shatzkin, George Washington University’s fifth annual Conference on Ethics and Publishing

And I find some of Shatzkin’s numbers helpful for explaining to folks the sizes of some of the stakes here. For example:

  • Big Six publishers each average 3,000 or more titles each year.
  • The next 10-largest houses each average some 500 to 700 titles per year.
  • An acquiring editor at a traditional house, he says, will do 10 to 15 books each year.

And when it comes to these questions about investment in authors’ new titles and new careers, I don’t see any easy answers.

  • Authors working mainly as independent actors, each naturally devoted to his or her own progress and advancement, aren’t necessarily in a position to invest in newcomers and new material from others, however inclined they might be toward mutual support.
  • And however ad hoc (and untraceable) as traditional publishing’s R&D function of cycling funds back into development may be, it appears — at least on first look — there’s even less such a mechanism in place in a DIY setting.

So this is where I’d like your input:

Do you see a natural investment opportunity and apparatus in place for supporting new talent and the new works of existing authors in a self-publishing setting? Aside from the individual trial-and-error that each self-publishing author funds for him- and herself, where’s the R&D in a DIY industry?


Writing on the Ether now can be followed not only here at JaneFriedman.com (free) but via RSS at the Publishers Marketplace’s Publishers Lunch Automat, in the section, ePublishing and the Future. (A subscription is required for Publishers Marketplace and its many services — easily worth the cost.) The @PublishersLunch industry news service is led by Michael Cader and Sarah Weinman.


 Main image: James Cook, Rome

 


Upcoming Online Classes

Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

Join the conversation

77 Comments on "EXTRA ETHER: Will DIY Pay for R&D?"

Notify of
avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Roz Morris
4 years 11 days ago
These are interesting questions, but predictably you’re not going to get many self-published authors weeping tears over them. Especially not the professional writers who have actually laboured with the publishing industry for years, and have produced the kind of work that is worthwhile, enduring and stretches the artform. I totally agree that these are the kinds of writer that publishers could nurture and develop long term. But the industry has decided it doesn’t need those writers. So what do we do? In the UK, Big Six publishers are hunting in the Amazon self-published chart-toppers. The more discerning publishers are closing… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Thanks so much for this insightful comment, Roz. It arrives with the clear weight of your actual experience on staff at major publishers and now, of course, as a self-publishing novelist. And you do it — unlike so many others — without that mewling, whining, mean-spirited tone that tends to weaken so many good arguments in lesser hands than yours. As you can tell from my list of “reservations” in the piece, I’ve had my doubts about how much profit might truthfully be plowed back in to new-author/new-work development at some major houses. While I’m sure there are some happy… Read more »
Roz Morris
4 years 11 days ago

‘Executive suites are good at talking about wanting creativity,
when it’s really the last thing they want — creativity is disruptive…’ The nail hit soundly with a hammer, Porter!
The trouble is, executives want (and need) reliability, testability, small increments on what they already know that works. That’s not how true ‘creatives’ work.
I don’t envy those corporations trying to scratch a living by taming these creative animals, by the way!

Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago

All too true, Roz, imagine herding the creative cats to try to get another billion dollars or two you can show the board. Poor execs. 🙂

Jim Hamlett
4 years 11 days ago
As usual, Porter, you bring good thoughts to the table. I chewed on this one a while. When I chose to self-publish my first work, I had a completely different route in mind from what most folks think of as DIY. And I believe my concept fully addresses the question of “where is the R&D in self-publishing.” Here’s my dream: I started Graceful Word, a small fellowship of writers who collaborate to produce good literature that’s not only interesting to read, but actually has something to say without being in your face (we called it “theme” in the old days).… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Jim, Thanks so much for this heartfelt and intelligent comment. Your concept of a small enclave of mutually critical and supportive writers is excellent. In fact, I’d be surprised if most authors don’t harbor some form or other of this kind of dream — a safe space to take new and even crazy work, a place to test things where you won’t be thought an idiot for going out of the usual bounds, a place in which you don’t have to prove yourself and re-prove yourself daily, weekly, monthly. Very hard to get such a group, as we know, especially… Read more »
John Barnes
4 years 10 days ago

Well, except for those of us who are natural lone wolves, and there are many writers who are. I’ve never known why people make a big deal about being in a community; to me the best thing about being a writer is the absence of co-workers, and the ability to restrict interactions to what’s needed for the job and no more.

Amy Lundebrek
4 years 11 days ago
The whole “R&D” argument doesn’t jive very well with all the editors out there showering advice on hopeful authors that basically says “it has to be top notch before it gets to me or I will reject it.” I see the behemoth that Amazon is, but I feel more free in this new writing world. I am happily writing my novel knowing that I will not be sending it around for rejections for three years. Instead, I will be publishing it. I also buy Kindle and Smashwords books that are written by other aspiring writers, and I think this is… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Hey, Amy, thanks for commenting. I won’t disagree with you that a large part of the established industry has abdicated a lot of its own responsibility and shoved it off onto authors. You do need to arrive with work that’s “camera ready” as we used to say in advertising, and this is partly happening because publishers are losing their footing, losing money, downsizing, and simply not able to throw the staff they once could gather into a project. On the other hand — and NOT the publishers’ fault — this also has to do with the fact that there are… Read more »
Lise McClendon
4 years 11 days ago
Love reading this discussion, Porter. I’d like to add a little asterisk by those numbers you got from Bowker however. In 1998 most fiction books were no longer “actively” in print after a short while, one or two years. Now almost everyone, traditional publishers themselves and the authors who got their rights back to old books, have put all those backlists back “in print.” Electronically but “in print.” It seems to me a big chunk of that 32 million has to be old titles put back into print. Not to say that the new titles haven’t swelled. But the numbers… Read more »
AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 11 days ago

Hadn’t thought of that, Lise, and that’s an excellent point. Loads of out-of-print titles are now back on the market as e-pubs.

Porter Anderson
4 years 10 days ago
Hey, AJ, indeed a good point from Lise, but do check the response I’ve left her — the “repeat business” of some backlisting doesn’t mitigate the “avalanche” (I’ve gotten totally lost in my metaphors) of material. We’re facing a mighty wall of content, both as readers and practitioners, and while it sounds just super at first to say, “Hey, everybody can write and is writing and books, books, books,” as soon as you start looking for how our best work will be found, read, and supported in this overwhelm? — we’re all deer in the headlights. Lots to learn yet… Read more »
Stephen R. Welch
4 years 10 days ago

… good point. Still, whether it’s 32 million or 3.2 million, the supply is dauntingly greater than the demand.

Porter Anderson
4 years 10 days ago

Yea, verily, Stephen, do check the response I just left for Lise on this point , you and I are on the same wavelength here.
-p.

Porter Anderson
4 years 10 days ago
Hey, thanks for jumping in! I think you’re right, Lise, that there’s some overlap there. But to me the point isn’t that so many more new titles have been created as it is that there simply are that many titles in play. The problem of being found in a 32-million-book pile is almost incomprehensible. When you then add the unprecedented number of NEW titles heading into the market — unprecedented because self-publishing is enabling so many more people’s content than could be produced before — then you realize that this avalanche is snowballing … or this snowball is avalanching, LOL… Read more »
Jill Carroll
Jill Carroll
4 years 11 days ago
I read Williamson’s piece when it first came out, and again in the last day or so. I’ve come to think that she harbors a nostalgic, somewhat idealistic view of the traditional publishing industry in terms of its dedication to R&D. I simply don’t see the evidence that the Big Six or any others, as a matter of course, provide the kind of long term nurturing of creatives that Williams seems to envision. If and when it does happen, it seems accidental or a function of the personal commitment of a particular individual at the publishing house who takes a… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Hi, Jill, thanks for this comment, very cogent. I agree with your doubts about the traditional world’s R&D commitments (per my four “reservations’ in the piece — and those doubts seem borne out by comments from Roz Morris here today, as well. (Morris formerly worked inside major publishing houses, she’s seen it from that vantage point.) Nevertheless — and even if nothing were done in the past in the way of R&D — I think it’s an interesting and worrisome question for today. To me, it’s heartening to hear you talk about the great Losing of Heart to come (as… Read more »
AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 11 days ago
Ditto Amy’s comments, but I’ll add one more point that I think got rather breezed over (and that’s not meant to critique the article, which was a smashing good read). Kickstarter. That’s it these days. I really believe that, passionately, and without any reservations. I was a fan at first, but Jordan Stratford’s success with his Wollstonecraft project made me a believer 🙂 R&D now comes from the process of testing your idea in the waters of community input, feedback, and, most crucial of all, pledged support. If at first you don’t succeed, revise and try again. Model success, research… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Hey, AJ, glad to hear your upbeat assessment of the Kickstarter / crowdfunding concept in general, thanks for reading and commenting. You know where I worry about this? Overload. At this point, Kickstarter is still fairly new to a lot of people. We’re getting a few big successes on it (Seth Godin’s recent turn being one, for example), so visibility is rising, yes. But if we look, say, three years down the road and perhaps thousands of people have made small, earnest donations (bless them for that) and they’ve had the experience of seeing “their” projects they took to their… Read more »
AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 11 days ago
Porter, you make some excellent points here, and I confess to wagging a bushy tail of naiveté in front of my bright eyes…it makes the rosy coloring that much easier to see, you know 😉 On the issue of the number of titles listed now versus then…32 million? Holy crap…and I emphasize the crap part of that. Abysmal numbers of errors, typographical and grammatical, clunky prose, weak characters, empty dialogue. I’ve seen both in print and e-boo formats, self-pub and trad-pub. Yes, the driver’s seat is being shared, and we are seeing a lot of projects getting to the point… Read more »
Friend Grief
4 years 11 days ago
I’m perversely fascinated by Kickstarter – to a point. The fundraising consultant in me looks at it as a world-wide capital campaign: you’re raising money from interested people because you’re building something. There are levels of donors who get certain tangibles – and often, intangibles – in return. I think it’s a great opportunity for all kinds of artists, not just writers. However, and I have personal experience here, a KS project can be – for want of a better word – tacky. I’ve seen campaigns that went overboard with the tzotchkies – so much so on one that the… Read more »
AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 11 days ago

Indeed! I’ve seen some reward lists that look like more time and effort are being expended there than on the actual project goal.

The rewards I’m putting together are straight and to the point, handmade by me with the help of artist friends’ and their expertise and resources (they’re teaching me to use their gear and throwing their scrap my way – which is right in line with my project goal of encouraging re-purposing and reuse!) So with my project at least, pretty much zero of the pledged funds will go towards the tangibles.

Porter Anderson
4 years 10 days ago
Well, far be it from me to dampen your enthusiasm, AJ, I wish you nothing but the best. But just to clarify, I don’t mean the danger is in situations in which a Kickstarter goal isn’t met. Those cases in which the good-hearted ones get their money back — surprise dinner, as you say. No, I mean cases in which the goal IS met, the author produces the great project, the donors all gather for their various benefits, party time, free books, T-shirts, breakfast with the cover designer, bowling with the copy editor, all the premiums are ready, and …… Read more »
Annmarie Banks
Annmarie Banks
4 years 11 days ago
I think traditional publishing was too exclusive. I don’t think a lot of nurturing was going on. I think there was a lot of talent that wasn’t getting out of the slush piles. There are many stories of popular best-selling authors who had dozens of rejections before their lucky breaks. Who knows how many potential money-makers were tossed out without a “nurturing” review? On the other hand, if we want to say that the exclusivity of trad pubs kept the drek out of bookstores, we’d be wrong about that too. I was a bookseller, back in the day, and there… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Hi, Annemarie, thanks so much for reading and commenting. To parrot you — in a good way, lol — I think the only people who wouldn’t agree with you on 99% of what you say, if not 100%, are those “editors in New York offices.” And frankly, I believe that a lot of them are, and have been, keenly aware of the problems of traditional publishing — exclusivity being huge among them — for quite some time. In fact, do you know our good colleague Roz Morris? She has a terrific comment here today — the first that came in… Read more »
Friend Grief
4 years 11 days ago
I’m going to take a break from my final, final rewrite before sending my little manuscript to the editor I’ve hired so that I can respond, Porter. I find the speculation over what the Big 6 spend on R&D to be…well, a waste of time. Haven’t we all figured out that they’re not going to open their books to anyone, not even their own authors? The investment self-publishing authors have to be willing and able to incur can be substantial. My research/interviews have taken me to both coasts and several spots in between. It’s run up my credit card bill,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Hey, Viki, thanks for commenting. Yes, I thought of you and the issue of self-publishers whose goal seems to be a traditional contract, when reading Eugenia Williamson’s piece — the center section of it is a sequence about a self-published book that finally won for its author a traditional contract, in part through the assistance of a very enthusiastic spouse who helped to get the word out very faithfully. Although I don’t think it was intentional (and don’t know for sure, of course), there was a quiet sense that “traditional is the real goal” underneath that element of the piece.… Read more »
Friend Grief
4 years 11 days ago

Re-edit done and emailed to editor. Let me know what Rufus says. Tell him money’s no object. 😉

RobertBidinotto
RobertBidinotto
4 years 11 days ago
I believe you’ve mischaracterized my views about self-publishing, and the reasons for my irritation with Ms. Williamson’s article. I’ve never claimed that self-publishing was easy, and I’ve never claimed that my own success was not exceptional. In fact, I’ve been offering aspiring self-publishing authors detailed advice (drawn from a host of successful ones) telling them exactly what they can expect, and the kind of time and effort they must put in to maximize the odds of commercial success. (I’ll email it to anyone interested; write me at: RobertTheWriter [at] gmail [dot] com) Regarding my own success with my debut thriller,… Read more »
bowerbird
bowerbird
4 years 11 days ago

robert said:
> the “sneering” didn’t begin on our side.

bingo.

-bowerbird

Jane Friedman
4 years 11 days ago

Have we all really devolved into a “He/She started it?”

bowerbird
bowerbird
4 years 11 days ago

jane friedman said:
> Have we all really devolved
> into a “He/She started it?”

just putting all the facts on the table.

or did you think that half-the-facts
would be sufficient for your readers?

-bowerbird

Jane Friedman
4 years 11 days ago

These “facts” are not helpful to progress. It’s the purview of children.

bowerbird
bowerbird
4 years 11 days ago
i find it interesting that you are replying to me, when all i did was agree with a point that robert made. but it would be unseemly for you to continue to go at him, when he has just pointed out — quite correctly — how this article put a nasty spin on the nature of his accomplishments. was robert “lucky”. yes, he sure was. just like every other artist alive who has gotten “a lucky break” as a jump-start, after working their ass off. every one. the people inside the publishing industry spent a long time throwing insults at… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Hi, Robert, and thank you for reading and commenting. I take all your points on board and need not try to counter any of them. You know your experience far better than I or others can, and your perceptions are fully as valid as anyone else’s. In fact, I’d like to ask you a couple of things that occur to me as I read your thorough comment. First, could you tell me what established writers’ organizations refuse to allow self-publishing authors full membership because those authors aren’t on traditional publishing contracts? And second, can you tell me what the reason… Read more »
RobertBidinotto
RobertBidinotto
4 years 11 days ago
Those are a lot of questions, Porter, but here goes: 1. The International Thriller Writers (ITW), for one. You can check out their “How to Join” page here: http://thrillerwriters.org/aboutitw/how-to-join/ There, you’ll find this: “Active membership is available to thriller authors published by a commercial publishing house. This includes authors of fiction and nonfiction. By “commercial publishing house” we mean a bona fide publisher who pays an advance against royalties, edits books, creates covers, has a regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold, and receives no financial payments from their authors….ITW maintains a list… Read more »
Jane Friedman
4 years 11 days ago

One question that I don’t think is raised often enough is whether these organizations are relevant any longer. Are the benefits of full membership valuable (still)? Is it more about status? (Or has it only ever been about status?)

RobertBidinotto
RobertBidinotto
4 years 11 days ago
A fair question, one that almost answers itself, Jane. But let’s take the ITW, for example. This weekend it held its annual “Thrillerfest” in NYC. Among the major authors in attendance were Lee Child, Jack Higgins, Ann Rule, Nelson DeMille, and many other fine authors whom I respect. There also were panel discussions on a host of interesting subjects. Now, under normal circumstances, I would have loved to have attended. No, I don’t give a fig about “status,” and never have. But I do value socializing and cross-fertilization with other writers. There’s much to be gained from events of that… Read more »
Friend Grief
4 years 11 days ago
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago

Thanks, Viki.

John Barnes
4 years 10 days ago
I think that’s almost entirely an individual decision. I joined SFWA when it was very strongly adversarial toward publishers, because, bluntly, when it came to money and rights, at the time it was pretty much a zero sum game between writers and publishers, and I wanted a bigger share and some allies whenever the opposition tried to grab onto my share. I drifted out when it became clear that the SFWA has become very concerned with keeping publishers in business; i.e. they stopped fighting and started collaborating with the class enemy (the last straw was when, instead of beating on… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
This is really helpful, Robert, thanks. My own focus is in literary (that’s what I critique) and not in thrillers or other genres, so I hadn’t seen this kind of openly stated bias against non-traditionally published work like ITW’s position. Great of you to go to the trouble to lay that out. There are some folks I can talk with who are in good touch with this — at members of the ITW and community, etc. You’re right that the onus is on them to explain such policy statements. Meanwhile, do have a look at the note Jane Friedman, my… Read more »
RobertBidinotto
RobertBidinotto
4 years 11 days ago
I should add the Author’s Guild to the the list, Porter: https://www.authorsguild.org/join/eligibility There we find this: “Regular Membership. You may qualify on the basis of being a book author or freelance writer: Book authors must be published by an established American publisher. While decisions on membership eligibility are made on a case-by-case basis, generally book contracts are expected to include a royalty clause and a significant advance, and must allow the author to retain copyright. Exceptions to these requirements are sometimes made in the case of small literary presses of national reputation. Self-published works and works published by subsidy presses… Read more »
M. Louisa Locke
M. Louisa Locke
4 years 11 days ago
I am a DIY self-published author, who found Williamson’s piece upsetting because it did what so many other pieces have done, alternated between describing self-published authors as a group in dismissive terms and using some of the most unrepresentative examples to prove its points. I am not going to argue that traditional publishing is dead, or that self-publishing is the best or only route for every author to take, but what I am going to do is give you my reasons why I don’t believe that self-publishing is a dead end. Williams is making 3 points: That publishing is not… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago

Hi, Louisa, thanks for reading and commenting — you certainly do a thoroughgoing job of laying out your experienced position on this, and I appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into that.

It’s especially heartening to hear of so much healthy sharing of info among writers, that’s excellent.

All the best to you for more success, it does sound as if you have it all licked. Congratulations!

-p.

Henry Baum
4 years 11 days ago
Ironically, it’s the publishing industry that turns out to be right wing. They claim the same model of trickle down economics where wealth for a few will trickle down to everybody else. The truth is: this doesn’t work for the publishing industry any more than it does for government. The money is staying at the top. Strangely enough, self-publishing turns out to be libertarian – bypassing the “Big Government” of big publishing for individual rights. For libertarianism to work, people have to be altruistic all on their own, so hopefully the big wigs of self-publishing will start supporting the littler… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago

Hey, Henry, thanks for reading and commenting. I hadn’t tried assigning political colorations to the players in publishing, glad to leave that one to you.

There’s an interesting point in the Shatzkin article I referenced in this Extra Ether in which Mike references his own political leanings in terms of his views on the DoJ case against publishers. http://ow.ly/cfFWP — you might find that an interesting sidelight.

Availability is good, yes. Also overwhelming at this point but many people are working on issues of discoverability, etc.

Thanks again,
-p.

John Barnes
4 years 11 days ago
I’ve had thirty novels commercially published, and for most years of my adult life fiction writing has been my largest single source of income. So I’m very much a creature of the traditional publishing side. I don’t think what they did was nurturing or R&D; almost nobody does that and the people who genuinely try, the foundations and writers colonies, mostly don’t succeed at it. At least in the realm of fiction, publishers bet on me in exactly the way that a fast food chain bets on a franchise holder. They also extorted a great deal of control, much of… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
John, many thanks for reading the piece today and especially for this detailed and spirited comment. First, congratulations on your 30 novels — especially having had them produced under traditional publishing conditions you don’t care for, this is an admirable body of work. If I may be bold enough to ask — answer only if you like — how much control do you have over your backlist? Are you able to publish some of your earlier books, yourself, or are the rights preventing your reissuing them? Another thing I wonder about is workload. While I get very clearly that your… Read more »
John Barnes
4 years 11 days ago
Taking the questions quickly: I have about half of my backlist fully under my control now and will begin publishing them sometime this year. Legally some of my entangled backlist is a bit of a mess and I’ll need a lawyer to figure out what the deal is on it, but since I have a couple years’ worth of publishing I can do with the free-and-clear titles first I’m just not worrying. I’m a peculiar case because I have also worked as a magazine editor, stage designer, and marketing intelligence analyst (see my piece, “Author, Market Thyself” over at http://www.TheCMOSite.com… Read more »
Peter Turner
4 years 11 days ago
Great post about the self-publishing phenomena, Porter. Thank you. I tend to think the R & D argument is a canard (sorry, can’t miss an opportunity to use that word). As a former publisher myself, my feeling is the only R & D excludes authors from being published as one’s discernment as a publisher improves. Successful books allow publishers to take risks on books of merit, which they know will likely sell more modestly, and on investments in new authors who may become bestsellers but will require a strong marketing push ($). The “dead-end” of self-publishing is, in my opinion,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago
Hey, Peter! Great of you to join us, thanks so much for reading the Extra Ether and jumping in, good to have your voice in the mix! I get what you’re saying about the “content abundance crisis” (I just made up that phrase). Several times today in responding to others here in our comments, I’ve used Laura Dawson’s (of Bowker) terrific set of figures she reminded us about in one of her own posts this week: In 1998, there were roughly 900,000 active titles listed in Books in Print. And today there are 32 million. So your metaphor of the… Read more »
Peter Turner
4 years 11 days ago

Thank you, Porter. I so enjoy your posts and your willingness to offer thoughtful replies to comments. Regarding your last paragraph, all I can say is “I’m working on it”–can’t wait to say more.

AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 11 days ago
Had to go look up canard there for a minute. Thanks for inspiring some education for me today 🙂 Trust. Yes, a crucial piece of the puzzle. The “avalanche of content” image is apt, indeed. But I wonder if we’re still approaching this with eyes connected to a mindset from back then. In the previous model, vetting was a publisher’s domain, and relatively few other entities could hope to be positioned as extenders of trust. Then Amanda Palmer earned a million dollars on a Kickstarter campaign, after leaving the major label that had vetted her work in the past. Okay,… Read more »
Peter Turner
4 years 10 days ago

Trust can be earned by any sort of publisher or curator. Traditional publishers never owned it and deserved it in varying degrees. Yes, “we are the media” but in order to hope to be paid for creating (authoring) or curating (bookselling) books and other content we need to have ways of earning trust that aren’t in place yet.

Porter Anderson
4 years 11 days ago

PS, thanks for using “canard,” too, we all need to use that word more frequently. Especially in publishing! 🙂

Will Entrekin
4 years 11 days ago
“For every Joe Konrath, there are many thousands of self-published authors who’ll never see much revenue from their books.” Well, sure. And for every James Patterson, there are many thousands of corporate authors who’ll never see much revenue from their books. I clicked through to the original article, and it seemed to follow a similar model as people used to say “traditional” publishing followed: you throw a bunch of books against a wall and hope something sticks. It’s like spaghetti, except not as good with marinara. Seriously, though, I’m not sure what people mean here. R&D? I know that stands… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 9 days ago
Hey, Will, thanks for the good input! I agree with you that there’s a terrific role for universities. Judging from my experience with AWP and its member programs, I’m hoping, in fact, that universities can get closer to the commercial world of actual publishing, since so many people they treate in terms of craft are leaving campuses seriously unprepared for the market exigencies they’ll face. (Some fine folks on faculties, for example, may have experienced publishing, themselves during the heyday of traditional publishing or via university presses, and these backgrounds can deliver them to their lecterns with understandable gaps in… Read more »
Stephen S. Power
Stephen S. Power
4 years 10 days ago

I’m a senior editor at Wiley who’s keenly interested in what happens to trade publishers now that we’re competing with self-publishers, and I think this is one of the best discussions of that conflict thanks to the back and forth with the authors. Great follow up questions and just as great answers.

AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes
4 years 10 days ago
I’m curious about that, too. And I think that very issue, traditional vs. contemporary, is at the heart of the world’s economic woes. What if trad houses are forced to lay off 50% of their editing, printing, publicity, and tech staff, not to mention senior level staff who can no longer be justified as employees because there just aren’t that many subordinates to supervise any more? Is this already happening? I’d love to see some statistics on that. Please don’t take this as the gloating curiosity of one who once felt shut out of the market because of the lengthy… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 9 days ago
Hi, Stephen – Many thanks for your note here — and for reading us and following the discussion. You sure know how to put your finger on a major question. I think we ALL are wondering how trade will fare in this new scenario of completely unprecedented — and so diffused — competition. I say diffused because , of course, the self-publishing community is vast and highly diverse. There’s nothing of the solidity of “that new store that just opened across the street from us.” Self-publishing forms an almost invisible rival because it IS the trees in the forest. There’s… Read more »
William Ockham
William Ockham
4 years 10 days ago
Let’s talk about economic models for writers. I didn’t say publishing because that puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It’s really useful to think about why we use the term “publishing industry”. There was no publishing industry before Gutenberg, but you can start to see that term make sense pretty soon after that, at least in Europe. That bit of new technology created a new industry. The marginal cost of a book (and other printed materials) dropped dramatically.Scribes didn’t go away overnight. For a little while, there were things they could do that printers couldn’t. So it will be… Read more »
Porter Anderson
4 years 9 days ago
William, thank you for reading and joining in. I share your interest in the concept of professional writers’ groups organized as production bases, really — business arrangements that serve the publishing needs of their members. I wrote of this, in fact, in March, at Writer Unboxed, taking a cue from the Magnum Photographers group instigated by Cartier-Bresson and associates in Paris in the middle of the last century (and still a force to be reckoned with). http://ow.ly/cirJQ I did find, in writing that piece and discussing it with writers who commented about it, that there’s a bit of a gap… Read more »
Friend Grief
4 years 9 days ago

Porter, I keep coming back to your idea of this support(ive) group of authors formed to support their needs. You already nixed my United Artists example. 😉 But if all the services they require are in-house, as it were, aren’t you describing a traditional publisher?

Porter Anderson
4 years 9 days ago
No, Viki. A traditional publisher chooses the material it will publish, the authors are basically auditioning to be actors in that musical. In this case, the collective of author-members hires the publishing personnel, the services, the supplies, the distribution, everything. If this were a musical? The producers would work for the actors. The authors control this company and they control it AS a company, an incorporated firm — just as the services and personnel and worldwide offices of Magnum Photographers work FOR the member-photographers, not vice-versa. In this evocation of Cartier-Bresson’s Magnum concept, the publishing staff takes its orders from… Read more »
Stephen R. Welch
4 years 10 days ago

Thank you, Porter, for this terrific post. And thanks to all the others for your lively conversation on this subject.

I’m relatively new to the self-publishing arena, and find the thoughtful, incisive, and — especially — relevant, discussion here very encouraging. There are many well-meaning blogs online that simply don’t deliver value for the time spent slogging through them. Ether is definitely not one of those … it’s one of the very few, in fact, that I truly look forward to reading.

Well done, and again thanks …

SRW

Porter Anderson
4 years 10 days ago

Totally kind of you to say, Stephen, thanks so much for the good words and for joining us here. Our next full edition of Writing on the Ether runs Thursday, so do drop back to see what all we get up to. I like to use these “Extra Ether” editions for a more focused look at a single issue. And as you can see, it’s really our great readership — the Ethernauts 🙂 — who make it fly. Thanks again!
-p.

trackback

[…] and make some sort of meaningful income. The discussion got picked up by Porter Anderson at “Writing On Ether,” bringing more light to the conversation (thanks to Porter) and more heat (thanks to most of […]

trackback

[…] is the question posed by Porter Anderson over on Jane Friedman’s blog this week, and I find it fascinating on many levels. The general idea of the article – and I […]

trackback

[…] The “us” of that comment is self-publishing authors. And Bidinotto’s remark was one among many raised around my between-the-gases post, EXTRA ETHER: Will DIY Pay for R&D? […]

trackback

[…] The “us” of that com­ment is self-publishing authors. And Bidinotto’s remark was one among many raised around my between-the-gases post, EXTRA ETHER: Will DIY Pay for R&D? […]

trackback

[…] publishing – The Dead End of DIY Publishing by Eugenia Williamson and a response to this – EXTRA ETHER: Will DIY Pay for R&D? by Porter Anderson. Andreson’s article argues that traditional publishers promote innovation in […]

Cyd Madsen
3 years 11 months ago
I sure hope I’m not jumping into a debate where I don’t belong, but what’s happening with commercial publishing sure sounds a lot to me like what photographers went through a decade ago. I have no street cred as a novelist (I was a screenwriter), but as a photographer, I’ve been through the washing machine that tossed and washed and hung the entire industry out to dry in a bitter wind. If my observations don’t apply, I’m a big girl and have respect for the delete key. This is how the story goes: There are gatekeepers in place, fat and… Read more »
trackback

[…] Trying to wrap it all up – scanning sketches, photographing the A3 ones, one eye on the Tour de France, one eye scouring the web for links – I was taken by this article about DIY self-publishing being the death of R&D funding for literature – http://d23.65e.myftpupload.com/2012/07/15/extra-ether-will-diy-pay-for-rd/ […]

emily
emily
3 years 3 months ago

I’m tired of hearing about self-published writers and how much money they make with their books. Look at the covers.It’s all genre books!

That’s why I never bought a Kindle or Nook ebook reader. I would never read that kind of book.

trackback

[…] while back, I read a post by Anderson Porter about a four-piece article written over a few weeks in the Boston Phoenix by Eugenia Williamson, […]

wpDiscuz