The Business Rusch: R*E*S*P*E*C*T
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Crank up the Aretha Franklin as you read this. Because her classic “R*E*S*P*E*C*T” is blaring as I write this.
I am fed up.
This is the kind of mood I get into when I tell bosses to go screw themselves, when I walk off the job, when I say, “That’s it, no one treats me like this. Not a soul.”
In the past two days, two different editors have told me that I don’t know how publishing works. One deigned to explain to me how something in book production worked when I questioned a scheduling problem in the publishing house. The other told me I had no idea how to write a good book in my genre.
Excuse me, children?
And I do mean children. Both are younger than me, both have been in the business less than ten years, neither is anything more than an editor. Not a senior editor, not a vice-president, not the owner of the damn company. Editors. Employees way down the food chain.
I know. I was one, long before these two were out of frickin’ school. I have taught copy editors, for god’s sake. I have designed publishing schedules. I have run publishing offices. I have managed managing editors. I have more knowledge about publishing in my little finger than either of these two.
So why did this piss me off?
Because I bent over backwards for both of them to do them a favor. And they treat me like a new author who has no clue that publishing is a business.
Honestly, the first one I understand. It was e-mail, it probably didn’t seem as rude to the editor as it did to me. Fine. We’ll give the editor that one.
But the second? This isn’t the first time this editor has told me I don’t know how to write. And I’ve had it.
I probably wouldn’t be this mad if it weren’t for the other editors who have treated me this way. The mystery editor with two years experience who told me—an Edgar-nominated, multiple-EQMM reader’s choice winner, and a bestselling mystery writer—that I don’t know the mystery genre. The agent who told me—the award-winner in every genre I’ve tried including mainstream—that I don’t write well enough to publish a novel into the mainstream. The sf editor who told me—the bestselling, Hugo-award-winning editor & writer—that I don’t know what science fiction is. The unreturned phone calls, the unanswered important emails, the unfulfilled promises, and the lies.
I’m really tired of the lies.
In the early 1990s, I was talking to the most decorated short fiction writer in the field about writing and editing, and that writer said to me, “You’re the first editor who has treated me with respect in nearly a decade.”
I was shocked, I thought it hyperbole, and I took it as a compliment, not as truth. But the way I have been treated in the past twenty years by some in traditional publishing now leads me to believe that the writer did not mean it as a way of buttering me up, but as the voice of experience.
And I am appalled.
Let’s be fair here: I have had several editors treat me well, with respect, and with recognition of my past accomplishments. And let me say that, with no exceptions**, those editors have been short fiction editors (in every genre). Book editors—oh, it’s a nice romance in the beginning, but by the middle of the relationship, those folks seem to believe they bought the right to treat me like an idiot.
Yep. Mad. Furious in fact. Not at the words necessarily—I make mistakes as a writer; all writers do. I’m happy to revise, happy to work with editors. But the lack of respect—the lack of recognition that I might have the right to an opinion on the work, that I might have tried something difficult that might or might not work but that I knew what I was trying—well, that damn lack of respect pisses me off.
So then after I made some decisions this afternoon, I logged onto my e-mail and what did I get? Three fan letters, a nice letter from a blog reader about something I had done that had helped in one way or another, and a few reader queries about the release dates of future novels.
And I had a realization:
The folks in traditional book publishing have treated me like dirt under their shoe, but the readers have always treated me with respect. I have said for decades that the readers have kept me going, and they have.
I am grateful to the readers. I’m even more grateful that I can now go directly to them with projects that I think they’ll enjoy.
So with all of that, I’m going to share with you something that my friend, writer Lee Allred, has compiled. For those of you who never read the bios of writers and only look at the blog post, let me tell you who Lee is. He has written for DC Comics. He has written some of the best short stories in the sf field. Look up his work. It’s good.
Lee compiled this list of pros and cons from the various blog posts that Dean and I have written over the past year. Lee gave me permission to print it here. You might want to consider the list as you make decisions for your own writing.
Advantages with the traditional publishing/agent route:
• Up front money (advance)
• Better placement in brick-and-mortar shelves (but Borders is gone and B&N is slashing shelf space)
• Probably better sales volume per title (if better placement above holds up)
• Cachet from being NY published (for now)
• Possible promotional push (don’t hold your breath)
• Commissioned cover art
• Book contract mine fields
• Peon-level royalty rates
• High danger of publishing house bankruptcy
• 15% to agents
• Late/missing/stolen checks
• Odd/offbeat projects/genres not wanted
• They control cover art, deadline, publishing schedule
• Good luck pitching a short fiction anthology of your work
• Time and frustration spent on phone/email with publisher/editor/agent
• No control over in print/out of print (Why is my 2nd book of 6 book series out of print?!?)
• Backlist orphaned
• Estate nightmares (contract, contract, who’s got the contract?)
Advantages with indie publishing
• Higher Royalties per sale, both ebooks and (POD) print.
• Real sales numbers
• No submissions bottleneck
• Mulligans (you can insta-fix typos etc.)
• Total Branding control
. • Cover
. • Layout
. • Typesetting
. • Publishing line “look and feel”
. • Back Cover Copy
. • Blurbs
• Deadline control
• Publishing Schedule control (no more mandatory just one book a year)
• Distribution Channel control
• Genre/subject/story control (want to write 1930s masked avenger pulps? Go for it!)
•Control of in print/out of print (keep all of a series in print!)
• Control of back list (“eternal backlist” — brand new readers can buy your earlier books)
• Estate planning (heirs can simply continue to maintain already uploaded works and collect moneys; no contract sleuthing/battles)
• Learning curve
• No up front advance money; earn as you sell
• Possible expenses (computer, software, artwork, CreateSpace pro fees, etc.)
• Problematic placement in brick-and-mortar stores
• Time spent formatting (less than agent/editor time, though)
• The biggest downside (also the biggest advantage); YOU OWN YOUR CAREER — IN INDIE PUBLISHINGTHERE IS NOBODY ELSE TO BLAME THINGS ON.
With indie publishing, the money, the sales figures, and the control flows to the writer.
Amen. You all can dance to Aretha now.
“The Business Rusch: R*E*S*P*E*C*T” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
**upon two days reflection, I have thought of three book editors who were as good as the short fiction editors. Laura Anne Gilman, Tom Dupree, and Deborah Beale. Of course, none of them are still editing books. (Although I’m not sure about Tom.)