The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999

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The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

When change hits in the arts, it hits hard.  Tonight, I was reading an article in the April Vanity Fair about the movie All The President’s Men. The last two paragraphs of the article discuss how, in 1975, Sidney Sheinberg at MCA came up with a new way to release movies.  Once upon a time, folks, movies released slowly, one or two theaters at a time, and worked their way across the country.  It meant that the studio had to make fewer copies of the film, and that movies could become “sleepers”—films that actually built word of mouth over time.

Sheinberg decided to amortize costs by sending hundreds of prints of the film to theaters all over the country, and to run a nationwide advertising campaign at the same time.  The movie he chose to do this with? Jaws.

That little idea changed the way movies got marketed—and did so damn near overnight.  All the President’s Men got released just after Jaws, while this system was still in flux.

Jaws was a good, populist movie,” Robert Redford, star of All the President’s Men, said. “But it became the flagship for a campaign that overtook American movies.  It became a slick package, advertising-directed, about selling popcorn and product placement. I thought the timing of All the President’s Men very fortunate, because it was a very honest and unpolluted film.  I’m not sure if we could have managed it in its purity a decade or two later.”

Over the years, Redford has fascinated me because he has always had one foot in the business world even as he built his artistic career.  He started the Sundance Film Festival when it became clear that the smaller films—which All the President’s Men was—had no shot in the changing market.  The festival helped give films like that, films that didn’t have the benefit of timing, a shot.

Why am I talking about movies here? Because I want you to see the rapidity of change in that industry.  A marketing and business decision that was quite wise from a studio’s point of view ended up having a major impact on the kinds of films that got produced, distributed, and sold to film audiences.  Say what you will about the auteurs in the 1970s, most of them wouldn’t have had a chance had they started in the 1990s.  And it had nothing to do with their talent.

It had to do with the way the business had changed.

The publishing industry is going through the exact same kind of rapid change.  It’s extremely fast—so fast that I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago that I now give out different advice to newer writers than I would have given them just months before.

Writers have to learn business and they have to learn the new business.  If they don’t, they’ll go by the wayside quickly.

I’m worried about this, so worried I’ve mentioned it several times in this blog.  And I’ve been worried that my friends and fellow established writers aren’t moving with me.  Here’s why:

Over the last month, it has become increasingly clear to me that the publishing industry is making changes that emulate the music industry.  Those of us who exist on the periphery of the music industry have heard for years that new artists and even established ones can’t make money in the traditional music industry.

I didn’t understand that until I read Jacob Slichter’s So You Wanna Be A Rock ’N Roll Star several years ago.  He wrote about a system in which a musician who signed a deal with a major record label could end up owing the label tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.  He delineated it all out in a long book that showed just how the label ended up taking a naïve artist and putting him into debt.

Slichter said this was why so many rock bands disbanded—because the band itself was a legal entity and as a legal entity it was in hock to the studio. The only way the musicians could continue to perform and try to earn money from their music was to create a new legal entity and abandon the old one.  Otherwise, they were working in a kind of indentured servitude.

Think this is just sour grapes from one musician who didn’t make it big?  Look at a link that a reader from last week gave me.  It’s from a magazine I’ve never heard of called Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll and was written by rock producer named Steve Albini.  I’m not so sure how dodgy this website is that I’m sending you to—I don’t know if they violated Mr. Albini’s copyright by reproducing this piece.  I’m going to trust that they didn’t, because y’all need to see these numbers.

For those of you who can’t be bothered to check the link, Albini lays out the line-by-line “costs” that the musicians agreed to when they signed their record deal.  The musicians received a $250,000 advance.  But by the time the album got released and the tour was completed, the advance was gone—and the musicians owed the record label $14,000.

You’re understanding me right.  The “standard” contractually negotiated costs that the musicians agreed would come out of their pockets came to $264,000.  The only way for the artists to recoup that loss was to sign a new deal with the label, often at lesser terms.  If the label even wanted to sign them.  (That part is courtesy of Slichter)

How much did the label earn—with the same costs deducted?

$710,000.  In 1990s dollars.

Albini also lists how much each “player” made.  He includes a producer ($90,000), a manager ($51,000), an agent, ($7500) and a lawyer ($12,000).

He writes, “The band is now ¼ of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 in royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month.  The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never ‘recouped,’ the band will have no leverage and will oblige.”

When I read Slichter’s book, I thought, “Thank God publishing hasn’t figured out how to do this to writers.”

Well, folks, guess what.  It’s 2011.  Publishing has figured it out.

Just this afternoon, as I looked over  yet another contract addendum for a friend—this addendum sent by a big-name agent who didn’t even bother to check the addendum against the original contract terms—I saw the agency rider added into my friend’s contract.  The agency rider—the thing that says the writer authorizes the publishing house to negotiate with and pay the agent in the writer’s name—was awful.  My friend had edited it down to something similar to what was offered ten years ago, but I know dozens of writers who probably never did.

I dealt with some of this last week in my blog post and my husband Dean Wesley Smith has a post on something similar that you absolutely must read.

But we both know that most writers won’t listen to us.  And it has us both scared for our industry.  Writers are signing away their rights, just like the musicians listed above did, because these writers aren’t savvy enough to understand industry change and how it impacts art.  (Like Redford mentioned in that above quote.)

Once upon a time, publishing was a monopoly.  I’ve used this chart before.  From about 1920 to about 2006, this is how publishing worked:

Writers provide content (product) to Publishers.

Publishers distribute that content to Distributors.

Distributors distribute books to Bookstores.

Bookstores distribute that content to Readers.

Now, however, writers can do this:

Writers provide content (product) to Bookstores

Bookstores distribute that content to Readers

The middleman is no longer necessary.

Many writers find this scary.  They don’t understand that they are—and always have been—in business.  So they don’t act like business owners.

Business owners invest capital up front to start a business.  They recoup that investment over time, and eventually earn money from that investment.

When publishers started paying advances, they—in effect—told writers not to bother their pretty little heads with business.  “Write,” the publishers said.  “We’ll take care of your bills while you finish that book.”

Writers got used to this.  Writers forgot that they had to take risks of their own like other small business owners.  And right now, that attitude is biting writers in the ass—and most of them don’t even realize it.

As I have written these blog posts all year, I’ve gotten e-mails and private comments from long-time professional writer friends which, in effect, say things like, “We need agents. We can’t market our books otherwise.”


“Publishers are the only ones who can get us into national bookstore chains.”


“I have no way to reach foreign markets/Hollywood/the gaming industry without my agent.”

And you know what? Ten years ago, that was all true.

Publishers had a monopoly on distribution.  Unless a writer became a full-fledged publisher, invested tens of thousands of dollars on a single book, and knew how to work the system, the writer could not get his book into a bookstore.  How do I know this? I owned a publishing company twenty years ago.  I know how hard it used to be.  I remember the footwork Dean used to do to get one bookstore, two, five, or ten on board.  It was labor-intensive.  He courted distributors for years, before one took on our company.

It’s not that way any more.  Now, I can reach you with this blog.  I can take the novel I finished on Monday, pay a savvy editor to go over the book, pay a copy editor to make sure I don’t change my main character’s name midway through, pay a cover designer to make me a lovely cover—all for a flat fee—and put the book up in two major national bookstores by the end of the week. One of those bookstores has sister stores in the U.K. and Germany.

Of course, this is an e-book.  Putting up an e-book is spectacularly easy—and suddenly  you have a worldwide market.  If you’re willing to go to other distributors, you can have your book in more than 20 major national bookstores within two weeks.

If I spend about $50 on CreateSpace and add a small fee for my cover designer to design a  wrap-around (front and back) cover, I can have a trade paper edition of my book that will be listed in the catalogues of major distributors.  I don’t have to do anything else.  I don’t have to court those people for years, like Dean did twenty years ago.

And if I’m really willing to put myself out by designing a small catalogue of my work, I can send that to independent booksellers, give them a discount, and have CreateSpace produce and send them the paper books.

And suddenly, I am a publisher—with as great an ability to reach the consumer as any of the so-called Big Six publishers.  In fact, I can reach more readers because I control all of the rights, and I can opt to go into overseas markets that they can’t penetrate.

The monopoly isn’t just broken.  It’s shattered.

Most writers don’t realize that.  Most don’t want to do the “work” because they don’t know how little work they have to do.

What, really, must they do? They must pay someone up front instead of letting that person take a percentage of the work in perpetuity.  See Dean’s post on this.  Please.  See Dean’s post.

So let’s discuss agents, because that too is important.

Once upon a time, I had an agent.  Hell, I’ve had a lot of agents.  And I needed them.

Every writer did.

In the days before the internet, before the ubiquity of e-mail, before instant messaging and Skype, agents had a purpose.  Writers hired agents for their connections.  Agents got books in the door with a reluctant publisher.  Agents found partner agents overseas.  Agents got into Hollywood studios.

And writers paid the agent for those connections.  Writers, essentially, needed an agent to open all the closed and locked doors.

Some writers, salespeople all, did the work themselves. They booked a trip to New York, managed to get into the editor’s offices, and got their work looked at.

But those writers were rare.

Then the internet came along.  And web pages. And e-mail.

The doors became open.  All that secret information that agents got—which editor was buying what, who edits for the biggest publishing house in France, what’s the  name of the literary scout for such-n-so studio—could be Googled.

What’s more, if you had a successful book or hell, even a midlist book on a hot topic (say, vampires), then the foreign editors and the Hollywood scouts came looking for you.

On the internet.

Through your e-mail.

I get letters all the time from interested foreign publishers, and from movie people.  I just closed an option deal last week with an independent producer who found me through this very website.

And that is not unusual.

It’s now a myth, an old and tired myth, that you need agents to open these doors.  In fact, agents will often close the doors by believing that if some young producer is interested in Property A, then the agent can leverage that interest with a studio so that the studio will pay big money for Property A.  I’ve had agents promise that kind of thing all the time, and it has never panned out.

But since I stopped using agents on my Hollywood nibbles—guess what? I have Hollywood deals.  When I was agented, I only had one option in twenty years.

Now I have options running all the time.

Because of access.

And because I’m making my own decision. And because I do worry my formerly pretty little head about these things.

Most of my colleagues do not realize that the industry has changed, that everything they learned when they were starting out no longer applies.  They don’t realize that the business part of their industry has changed dramatically, that the deals they’re signing, the people they’re working with, would fit just as easily into the music industry of the 1990s.

Here’s the flat truth of it, my friends: If you are a midlist writer and you sign a traditional publishing contract with most modern terms, and you do so with an agent—and not an IP attorney—negotiating for you, you will not make any more than your advance on that book.  And the advance is not enough to  live on.  You will not be able to reserve e-book rights to you.  Those rights will be a percentage of net, which in most contracts is undefined.  And you will have to sell world rights so that the publishing industry can adequately exercise those e-book rights, making any money you would receive on foreign rights vanish.

If you have what I’m now beginning to believe is the standard agency rider in your contract, you will also lose a percentage of any auxiliary rights sale to that agent even if you fired that agent in the meantime and someone else negotiated the deal.  Plus that agent will be entitled to a percentage of any work you write using that series, those characters, that world, or anything resembling that.

There is a line item in Albini’s article at the end.  Someone else made money on that album deal.  It was the previous label ($50,000).  Change the word “label” to “agent” and you start to see the scope of the problem here.

If you are a New York Times bestselling author, and you sign a traditional publishing contract with most modern terms, and you do so with an agent—and not an IP attorney—negotiating for you, lucky you.  You have the chance and I mean chance of earning more than your  advance.  You better be a top-ten New York Times bestseller and you better stay on the list for longer than one week.  Because all the things I said above will apply.

The only difference? You’ll get a sizeable six-figure advance, and if you’re smart, you’ll write at least two books per year.  Until the opportunities dwindle, and they will.

Do you know how many former New York Times bestsellers I’m friends with? Do you know how many of them can’t get a traditional publishing deal for more than a five-figure advance?

Most of them.

If they’re offered a deal at all.

Folks, all of the things you learned about agents, editors, and book publishers used to be true.

Ten years ago, you needed an agent to open the doors for you in traditional publishing.

Ten years ago, your editor—who loved books (and still loves books)—could go to bat for you within the publishing house and actually win the fight, protecting you, her author.

Ten years ago, traditional publishing—while not a friendly industry (I don’t think there are any)—did not screw its artists the way that the music industry and Hollywood did.

Ten years ago.

Not any more.

Things have changed so rapidly that the contract I signed last September is not a contract I would sign today.  Not because of the advance or even because of some of the contract terms. But because it’s a multi-book contract.  And honestly, y’all, I want to decide from book to book if I want a traditional publishing company to handle everything.

Sometimes I will. Sometimes I’ll use a novel as a loss leader. Sometimes I will want the traditional publishing house to take all of the risk.


But not all the time.

And certainly not for multiple books in the same series.  Now, if that series isn’t being well handled by my publisher, I want the option to do it myself.  If the book is being well handled, I want to ask for a greater advance and better contract terms.

I have clout for the first time in my lovely little midlist career.  I plan to use it.

Most of my friends and colleagues will slowly discover that they can no longer make a living as a writer. They’ll wonder what happened. They’ll wake up one day—after their latest multi-book contract is complete—and wonder what the hell happened.

They changed industries.  They moved from a hidebound old-fashioned industry to a Hollywood-level shark pit—and they didn’t even realize it happened.

It is happening as quickly, if not more quickly, than Robert Redford described with All the President’s Men.  Redford, savvy business man that he is, saw the writing on the wall and decided to help save the kind of movies that he loved.

I am trying to save writers whose work I love. The only way to do that is to get them to realize that they have moved to a hostile and unforgiving world, one that is willing—no, eager—to take advantage of them.

The agents that they once trusted now answer to their agencies instead of to the writer.  Those agencies are trying to steal a percentage of the writer’s copyrights.

The editors whom they (rightfully) love have completely lost clout in their own industry, and often can’t keep the verbal promises that they make.

These writers need to learn business, and they need to learn it fast. Because as Dean delineated out in his most recent column, the scammers have moved in, willing to take advantage of the writers who are unwilling to invest in themselves, unwilling to pay flat fees to companies that can do the work for them if they can’t do the work themselves.

I’m sorry to tell you to stop trusting people.  I know some of these people are your friends.  Sadly, some of these people are my friends.  In fact, many of these people are my friends.

And it breaks my heart, it really really does.

But please, go look at that music industry link. Then realize that this is what’s happening in publishing now.

If you want to do all the original work, create the content that everyone else is making a profit on, and get paid less than you would earn at 7/11, then don’t learn any of this.

But if that idea scares you, if the idea that you might never earn more than your advance, and maybe not even all of that, then invest in yourself.  Learn to say no.

And stop working on a business model that’s ten years out of date.


“The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.



138 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999

  1. I meant to post this reply yesterday so forgive me if I’m reiterating what a lot of people have already said. Although I entirely agree with you, Kris, I can see a few problems. The great thing about e-books is that everybody can publish their own book. And the bad thing about e-books? Everybody can publish their own books!
    Publishers and agents had a variety of functions which have been slowly eroded by technological advances. Now they really only have one function: they act as a filtering mechanism. If I go into a shop to buy a book, I at least know the book I buy has been assessed by various people in the publishing industry who then felt it was worth committing time and money to publishing it. The same can’t be said for your standard kindle book. There’s no real quality control. And this isn’t helped by writers banding together to give each other positive reviews on Amazon.
    I live in Ireland, and e-books have yet to become as pervasive as they are in the States. And those people I know who do read e-books tend to buy authors whose reputations were made long before the current boom in e-books – e.g. Sprague de Camp, Agatha Christie, Stephen King.

    1. That’s a lovely myth, Aonghus, but the real truth of the matter is that readers have always decided what they want to read. Look at Loren’s post below. Sampling allows any smart reader to decide if a book is for them. Books that are awful won’t sell. It’s that simple. And they’ll simply linger on the sites, unread. Books that will sell, and sell well, with have readers behind them, spreading word of mouth. Yes, there will always be crappy books. There are now. Agents & editors are just readers like the rest of us, theoretically readers with great skill, but readers all the same. And they make a lot of mistakes. Right now, they’re turning down books by authors that readers want to read because the economics of publishing make it safer to buy a complete unknown, throw that book into the mix, and see how it will sell, instead of going with someone who has a built-in sales number. The publishers believe the new writer might do better. This is why writers from Connie Brockway to Joe Konrath initially put up their own books, because the publisher didn’t want to grow their audience, and wanted to try to hit one out of the park with a new (cheaper) writer instead.

      So sampling comes in, and it’s easier on an e-reader than in a bookstore. You can sample dozens of books in an afternoon and maybe buy one or none at all, with no financial cost to you, the reader. And that’s a good thing.

  2. I’ve just arrived at this indie writing business, it’s an exciting time. With change everywhere I’ll have no chance to become complacent.

    I found your comment about avoiding multi-book deals illuminative. What we thought were landmarks are being revealed by seasonal rains as chalk drawings. New but temporary paths are needed. Thank you for the blazing.

    1. Thanks, SF Reader. Good clarification.

      Allan, love that chalk drawing on the sidewalk analogy. Exactly! And you’re welcome. I hope you find lots of interesting material on the site.

  3. Patrick, an other comment regarding the .99 price point :
    Amazon doesn’t allow self-publishers to set a price under that .99 $, hence if a self-publisher wants to put his book on Amazon, he needs to price it at .99 or more.

    Meanwhile, in some cases (don’t know which author/story you’re talking about), the book’s/story length is indicated, and unless it’s not consistent with the story’s effective length, you were forewarned before buying. Of course, if there were wildly incorrect indications, I suggest you to ask for a refund, and maybe report the story to Amazon for incorrect description.

    Meanwhile, where I can, I encourage publishers (self or not) to put lingth indications, either as page count, or better, as word count…

  4. It’s not enough to generate incredible blogs, but I have to keep coming back day after day (sometimes several times in a day) to follow the debates, discussions, and wonderful tidbits I find scattered through your review posts as well! Nicely done, Kris.

    Having been on the stale end of an agent-author relationship going bad, I can look back now and see how that helped me go from a working-career writer with a solid yearly income to a person who could not run away from the field fast enough for a few years. Not that I don’t share in plenty of the blame… cause I do. But mostly because I did not heed advice to run (don’t walk!) fast enough away form an agent who was turning into a book doctor/publisher/whateverthehell.

    The ability to to take control of my own writing is a breathe of fresh air.

    And for those who claim that more bad writing will be published, sure, that may be true. Almost certainly is true. But more GOOD writing will be published as well with self-publishing. We will find it the same way we’ve always found good fiction in the bookstores, we’ll sample and read and take recommendations and choose for ourselves what we want to read. EXACTLY the way other readers out there will. I discovered five or six bad writers on Amazon last night. I also found two new ones I liked, and have just become a persistent buyer of their works. (If you are buying blind on Amazon, and not checking a Sample first, you deserve what you get, just like buying blind at a brick-and-mortar bookstore.)

    As for the ridiculous assumption that our work will get WORSE for not going through legacy publishing… people who say that aren’t reading broadly enough in their genre. There has always been bad fiction out there. New York does not have a magic wand to make us all better. I’ll stack my work against the market any time. Anyone not willing to do that (Indie -or- Legacy published) should stick to selling life insurance anyway.

  5. @ Patrick Lasswell:

    You may not know this, but Amazon has a reporting system for their sellers to use when people put up reviews that aren’t actually reviews. Meaning, if you put up a one-star review because the work was shoddy, the characters were inconsistent, and so on, that’s fine — but if you say “I’m giving this a one star because it’s overpriced” the seller can report you. Your ‘review’ (complaint) may then go away. I don’t know whether Amazon will stop posting your reviews after several of these reports, but I strongly recommend that you not test this. (Among other things, everyone can see the price and can judge for themselves whether it’s too high, so you aren’t doing anyone a service by complaining for that reason.)

  6. Fascinating. (I came here through a link at LJ from pjthompson.) The Trust Me post where you talked about people having to change their thinking really caught my attention.

    Thank you for taking the time to write these posts (I’m going to have to keep reading!) — and thank you for continuing to write your fiction, which I have also enjoyed.

    1. Thanks, Catherine. Glad it’s all helping.

      And thanks to all of you who posted so far. This dang internet connection ate two of my posts, so I’m going to just do a blanket thanks at the moment. 🙂

  7. Wow. Eye opening and riveting! I can’t help but to feel slightly good about my decision to self-publish with Createspace and Smashwords. Thanks for this informative article. Now, I just need to find something about self advertising. ; )

    1. Jay, scroll back through this blog, and you’ll find a piece on promotion. Also, my husband Dean Wesley Smith is doing a series called Think Like a Publisher. I am–again–on a dicey internet connection so am not going to put the links up. You can find them though. Mine is here, and Dean’s is at

  8. Kris, I hope I got all the serial numbers filed off to your satisfaction.

    Last month I gave a strong selling new author’s story a one-star review on Amazon because the product sold for my Kindle was overpriced at $0.99 for a single short story, even though I liked the story.

    As soon as I can bear to finish a recently published offering by the same author, a “re-imagining” of one of my favorite series I’m going to give it a another one-star review, partly because it’s overpriced at $11.99, but mostly because the book is a particularly turgid episode of “L.A. Law” set on the stellar frontiers instead of any kind of respectful new perspective on a science fiction great.

    The good news is that the ebook price of this stinking pile of text dropped considerably in the last month. The bad news is that I have to finish the damned thing before I can honestly eviscerate it in a review. He might deliver a worthwhile payoff. I might win the powerball and be able to afford to have 200 tons of horse manure delivered to his front door to properly compensate the new author in kind for his take on the greater author. Smart money is on the fertilizer provisioning.

    But my review on is going to cost him money, and that is another aspect of the business that needs to be kept in mind. Very possibly the failure of this book and the degree it is pissing off fans of the long past author would have been swept under the table twelve years ago. Now the execrable new offering will drag down his review numbers forever. Along with the flattening of the the publishing pyramid, there is also a flattening of the feedback pyramid.

    1. Patrick, the book offended you. I get it.

      But you’re putting a lot of power in those reviews. They rarely cost writers money. In fact, if you look at bestsellers, you’ll see a pretty equal ratio of “I loved this” to “this sucked to high heaven.” What matters is word of mouth. And yes, your review of that writer’s work is word of mouth. But it’s less effective word of mouth than your best friend telling you that he loved that very same book. You’ll still buy it.

      I do agree about the flattening of the feedback pyramid. As I said below, the readers are coming into control, and if all the reviews of this book are terrible, no one will buy it. But I know which book you’re referring to (I asked him to take the author’s name out; hence the serial numbers comment) and a lot of people like it. So, like anything else written by a good writer, some people will love it and others will hate it. And that’s a good thing.

      As for pricing, 99 cents is fair for a short story, I think. Whether or not you’re happy about spending that 99 cents is another matter, but 99 cents is a good short story price imho.

  9. Great article, Kris. I find the change in the publishing world both freeing and more demanding of authors – we can more validly (and more profitably) publish ourselves, but we have to be become savvy business owners at the same time, as you say.

  10. First time I read through this, I could hardly breathe. I’ve been working on novels for DECADES and subbing to agents. Second time through, I have a question: with the upwelling of ebooks, how do I know if it’s “good”? Second question: I have myopia when it comes to the final run-through of a novel. Even if I pay someone to edit, can I trust that they are being straight with me and not simply pandering? With flat-fee (and I’ve seen this happen), the editor takes the cash, “reads” the book, says, “Yep. Best-seller for sure.” Then rides off into the sunset, bank account fuller — and the writer proceeds to epublish…and the thing STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN and they crash and burn. Granted, Darwin’s Law. HOWEVER, as a reader, even shelling out 99 cents a crack, I’m gonna get leery of every CHRONICLE, SAGA and SERIES that comes out…hmmm…wandering here. Focus: is there an independent guild or club or group that might HONESTLY & RELIABLY “certify” ebooks in their genre for consumers AND act as a reliable clearing house for a writer’s near-finished work?

    1. Guy, writers never know if their work is good. If you don’t believe in your story, but you’re done with it, put it up under a pen name, and charge a few bucks for it. Over time, readers will let you know. They sample new books now on their Kindle, and if you have a lot of samples downloaded, but no purchases, then the work probably isn’t up to snuff. Sampling is a godsend, and will put control in the readers’ hands. Readers really do know if a book is good or not–and tell their friends if they like what they have read.

  11. John Walters- That is so cool that you were at a Clarion West! I’ve heard about it when reading some of the older authors (and Kate Wilhelm is one of my favorites right now. If she’s in F&SF it’s an extra treat) and have one of the paperbacks that they put out from the early 80’s. I always imagined it was a place where you got together at night to sit on cracket leather couches, sipping someone’s homemade lemonade and discussing everyones ideas of what makes a great writer great. It would be nice if there was more of that today, and by more of that I mean more of mentors that didn’t charge (I know Clarion West did) but instead had the thought that they wanted to pay forward the Gods of Literacy by helping a new Prophet. (And yes, Dean and Kris’ blogs are very, very helpful in learning about the wild world of prose.)

    Gerald M. Weinberg- Thanks for your comments. I totally agree with what you and Kris say about agents, that they are not needed. I think I should have gone deeper into what I said earlier: I think that new writers consider agents because they worry about making it on their own, but I also think that they consider agents because they write alone. Meaning, locking yourself up in your room and typing day after day after day after day can get lonely, and I think sometimes new writers (and maybe some old ones too) think not so much that they are agents but instead that they can be trusted friends who you can talk to. I know that that is not what they are for and no one should think like that, but I think some writers do and I think that is why the bad deals that Kris and Dean talk about will still have new writers signing those contracts.

    James A. Owen: Totally cool to be on the same comments page as the creator of Starchild.

  12. A book as a ‘loss-leader’? This is what happens when you treat writing like a business. Of course publishing is changing, particularly in the UK where the bookstore model has collapsed. But self-publishing has NEVER been the way forward, even on ebook – except if you have the skills to market and distribute. Simply throwing up a website and waiting for the customers won’t work. As for getting good deals – this is what an agent is for and a good one is worth his/her 10 per cent. The problem is, of course, convincing someone else that you have talent enough for them to use their own skills to sell your work. After that the problem is in finding one who is good – any who ‘close doors’ are just bad agents.

    Of course it is easier to do it yourself. That way you won’t get edited, or need to justify plot or even grammar. Of course you will get ‘Hollywood deals’ – TV and movies eat ideas and if they trawl websites and see a way of picking up plots on the cheap, they will grab them. Better than actually employing an expensive scriptwriter.

    Self-publishing brings more bad books than good on to the market. In the vast readership potential of US/Canada you might not notice the results of this, but in the tighter UK/European demographic, it simply means that the finite readers get warier and more selective. In other words, they will take books they see as quality and they see quality through advertising. So you are back to publishers with enough clout to shout loudest – and those are still mainstream publishers.
    No matter the medium – ebooks or once-were-trees – the message remains the same.
    Write a good book and they will come.

    1. I have no idea who you are, Orm, because of course, you wouldn’t put your name down or sign your e-mail. I know you’re not an agent, because agents no longer charge 10% and haven’t for decades. So I’m assuming you’re just a writer buried in the myths.

      Here you go, buddy. I never said you should put up a crap-ass product. And I take offense that you think my multi-bestselling award-winning career of several decades would suffer because I decide to self-publish my work. I haven’t gotten worse as a writer because I do things myself. I hire editors and copy editors, professional book designers, and since I owned a publishing company–one of the largest in science fiction twenty years ago–I know how to produce books. And I’m teaching others how to do the marketing. It’s not hard.

      Agents have embezzled from me, screwed up excellent Hollywood deals, and have never ever gotten me a good book deal in the US. Now, I will say that one foreign agent did a good job for me in France–and then my agent at the time decided to move away from that agency, and partnered with a terrible agency that nearly screwed up my succeeding deals. I’m not alone in this. Just last night, I was talking with six long-time professional writers who are self-publishing their work and who had story after story after story about agent screw-ups and how when they left their various partner agents (like Hollywood agents) they actually got real deals.

      And I don’t know what you call “cheap,” when the last deal I did was for mid-six figures. It came from an internet contact. Is that cheap?

      We agree about only one thing: Write a good book and they will come. Wait! You’re not talking about readers. You’re talking about mainstream publishers. So we don’t agree. Write a good book, and readers will find you. If you write a bad book, they’ll ignore you. Just like they do when some publisher mistakenly publishes a book that’s not up to snuff–which mainstream publishers do quite often.

    2. Folks, just got a second comment from the anonymous Orm which I have decided not to post. The only reason I mention that here is for the Great Orm, who is so confident in his/her/its opinions that he/she/it put a fake e-mail address on his/her/its post as well. I tried to privately notify him/her/it that I would no longer post his/her/its anonymous comments: If he/she/it wants to disagree with me as rudely as he/she/it is, he/she/it needs to sign his/her/its name. I will post his/her/its comment then.

      That goes for most anonymous comments. If you want to make an anonymous comment, fine. I’ll probably put up the first one. But if you want to argue with me, then you need standing, and to have that, you must sign your name, have a valid e-mail address, and a link to your website (if you have one).

      Now back to our regularly scheduled comments.

  13. Just Passing Through wrote:
    “I wonder if why a lot of the writers still go with the publishers/agents and whatnot is because we get worried if we can make it totally on our own. By self publishing, … it appears that it is all on your shoulders. Atlas. Whereas with the agents and the publisher you get the feeling- even though you have both shown that it’s mainly an illusion- that you are being nurtured. Taken care of.”

    I think that’s it. Well said, JPT. Here’s how I counter that when I mentor newer writers (and I do mentor dozens of them):

    “Are you worried about having all that responsibility? Then here’s what you do. Flush a few thousand dollars down the toilet and pretend you have paid it to someone who took your precious ms. and did nothing with it.”

    Then they ask, “But what about the world having a chance to read my story?”

    And I say, “Well, spend 30 minutes and put it up on Smashwords as a free book. Okay, maybe 60 minutes, if it’s the first time. Now you’ve equaled or surpassed the best you could possibly do with one of these new “agents.” Your book is available to the public, and literally thousands of them will read it. (I have a free novelette on Smashwords that’s “sold” over 20,000 copies in three months.)”

    If they still feel uncomfortable, I tell them: “You’ve wasted the money you threw down the toilet, but nobody is going to sue you, or try to force you to write another book. You have nothing to worry about, nothing on your shoulders. If you mess up the book, no problem because you’re giving it away for free.”

    “Of course, you can do better, if you’re willing to put in a little work. First, don’t flush that money down the toilet. That was just to give you a feeling of what it’s like to be screwed by your so-called agent.”

    “Of course, you could charge something for your book, but then you may not get thousands of readers. Or you may, but then you might have all that responsibility of making out deposit slips and reporting the income on your tax return. If that scares you, maybe you should stick to the original toilet plan.”

  14. Excellent article. For that matter, why not self-publish on Kindle or some other e-book platform?

  15. Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks!
    I’ve spent almost two years pitching my first novel, and was fortunate enough to get a professional editorial critique for free. But no dice on an agent or publishing deal.
    This is simultaneously encouraging and scary. Pardon me if I’m slow on the uptake, but the new paradigm is to embrace the very thing we’ve been warned for years *not* to do(i.e. spend the money on self-publishing)?
    Like I said, scary but encouraging. I’ve got what I think is a great book with an even better companion novel currently underway. I’ve managed to carve out a decent niche freelancing as a magazine writer on specific topics. Sounds like an investment opportunity to me.

    Adding your site to my favorites!

    1. Thanks, Pat. Yes, I find myself giving advice I would have considered “bad” ten years ago all the time now. But the fact that the industry has changed has given us a lot of opportunities. They do come with some up-front cost.

  16. My wife is in the music business, and made one of her clients his fortune. How? She helped him set up his own record label. That is the only way musicians make money except from touring and merchandise (if their contract is good, thy are reasonably popular and they have a competent, honest booking agent).

    What you are saying here is just continuing your music-business analogy. It is now possible for a writer to set up his or her own publisher, as musicians have long set up their own labels.

  17. Kris–

    I just about swallowed my tongue when I read this. Even having been watching this closely, and seeing (and pointing out) the parallels, I’ve had trouble believing it really has gotten that bad. This really is Hollywood and LA (music business) all over again. On the upside, with conditions like that, writers who won’t learn business will get selected out of the pool (a painful process, but they simply won’t last long).

    Goldman’s book is excellent for this. If I may, I’d also recommend Joe Eszterhas’s “The Devil’s Guide To Hollywood.” It’s less focused, and much more of a collection of anecdotes, but it’s a hell of a reality check for anyone in love with the glamor of the business. To survive, and even thrive, in shark-infested waters you gotta wear your chain mail and carry your harpoon–the successful screenwriters have figured out how to do that, and they’re lessons that we novelists need to learn post haste.


    1. Another great post, Dan. I have the Eszterhas book and haven’t read it yet. Looks like I better.

      And I find it deeply ironic that I am typing this while I sit in a hotel on Hollywood Boulevard with a view of the Kodak Theater….

  18. Mark–
    “Contracts are designed to give the writer of the contract leverage (among other things), and also often to be deceptive about it…”

    Sorry, but this just ain’t the case. Contracts are the written codification of an agreement–they deliniate the business relationship. They are not “designed to give the writer of the contract leverage.” They can be employed this way, and often are–and as you point out, you SHOULD be very careful when you negotiate, and never sign anything you haven’t read and fully understood.

    I object primarily because your wording promotes a the kind of paranoia about contracts and business that writers and artists already have, and from which they defend themselves by stoking their shroud of ignorance. Contracts need not be disadvantageous, and they need not be a tool for legalized robbery–they can be clear codifications of a mutually workable deal. But you have to be willing to dive in and work that out, and being paranoid about contracts is counterproductive to negotiating a good one.

    Caveat Lector (let the reader beware), but don’t be afraid of the things. Like knives, guns, cars, and chainsaws, contracts are useful, important tools–that can be deadly if you treat them carelessly or with too much timidity.

    You get it dead right when you say: “so if you have questions about something, ASK and VERIFY.” I’d add to that “And if you don’t have any questions, you’re not paying enough attention.”


    1. Great post, Dan. Thanks. I missed that as I scanned through on the airport’s very bad wi-fi service today. Great clarification.

  19. Thanks for the post, Kris. Great as always.

    A few of the comments at the top mentioned mentors – that is, older writers who are willing to guide newer ones until those new ones can stand on their own. I remember that in the distant past (1973) when I attended Clarion West there was a lot of that going on, and that the community of science fiction writers were very quick to help others get a step up. There was Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm, Harlan Ellison, Terry Carr, and many others all going the extra mile to assist the neophytes. Those were the days, right? Well, but what do we have right here right now in this blog? We have experienced writers offering their experiences and advice to assist others, answering questions – there is an amazing personal touch to this effort. We have our mentors, and the online experience enables us to communicate far more easily than has ever been possible before. We don’t have to wish for some future mentor program – we have it already. Thanks, Kris and Dean. You’ve made me feel far less lonely tucked away in my far corner of the world.

    And Kris, this is a little off-subject, but if it’s all right I wanted to mention a very personal way that your book “The Freelancer’s Survival Guide” (get a copy everyone – invaluable stuff) helped me out. About a week ago something hit me. A minor personal situation set it off, but then all of a sudden little things around me started affecting me in a much heavier way than they did previously. I found myself weak, vulnerable, depressed, and so on. For days, as it got worse, I wondered what was going on. And then I remembered the chapter in TFSG on “burnout”. I read it – then read it again. And it fit exactly. The burnout is not writing-related but due to my very stressful day job. I’m a teacher and besides my regular school hours this year I kept taking more and more extra private lessons because we needed the money… Well, anyway, I can’t slow down right now – it’s exam time – but just knowing what the problem was helped me get it under control – somewhat. At least I realize that when I overreact to something that it is due to the burnout exhaustion and I can keep it in better perspective. That chapter really saved me this time. Thanks so much for that.

    1. John, so glad it helped! You’re right: sometimes realizing it makes a difference. I actually had that thought on the plane today. I was wondering why I’ve been so tired lately, then realized that in addition to the blog, I wrote 3 novels, 3 novellas (one historical w/research), 1 novelette, and 2 short stories since November. And taught and traveled. Gosh…hmmm…

      Seriously, I’m very glad it helped.

  20. If more musicians had paid attention to what Frank Zappa did in taking charge of his career (Mrs. Zappa was a very important part of this) the music industry would have been taken away from the scam artists a long time ago.

  21. Kris, this whole series of articles has been super helpful. Thanks!
    One aspect I don’t think I’ve seen you address, however, is qualifying for membership in professional writers organizations. If I e-publish my stuff, I’m not eligible to be a member of SFWA, for example. 🙁
    Thanks a lot!

    1. I’ve been wondering the same thing, Lesley. I don’t have ideas. I think they’ll have to modify membership requirements, maybe by number of novels sold or something.

      Eric, exactly. And you have my fear. Here Dean & I are, yelling about this like Zappa did, and I’m constantly stunned at how many people really don’t want to think about it so just run away from the topic.

  22. This opens a whole niche for somebody. I have a friend who’s an established author with a large and excellent back-catalogue — that is no longer making her a penny. She’s also as tech-savvy as a grandma.

    There’s a heck of a lot of excellent literature out of print but still in copyright.

    Very small groups could effectively become the 21st C publishing houses by doing all the above on behalf of authors — formatting, editing, artwork, advertising — for, as you say, a flat fee (basically doing everything you described above, plus the bits you did for yourself).

    Not me, though. I’m as entrepreneurial as a potato.

    1. Thanks, DensityDuck. Nicely done. 🙂

      SW, there are a lot of groups doing the flat fee now. A couple of them visit this blog, from Cindie Geddes at Lucky Bat to Lyn Worthen–whose company name escapes me at the moment. Chime in, ladies, and others who do flat fee work.

  23. So what you’re saying, it seems, is that the old concept of the “writer” as an artist living off their art is dead. Instead, there is now a small business, whose focus is the production of creative work by the business owner. Kristine Kathryn Rusch I.G.

    Which, on the one hand, flies in the face of everything we’ve been told about art. “Whaddya MEAN it’s all about the MONEY, man? I’m in it for the ART!” But…that’s not it. What we’re saying is that you’re free. As Heinlein put it, you’re free because you alone are responsible for everything that you do.

    You know all those stories about the big bad RIAA stomping on some mom for sharing music? Well, hey–if it’s your music then you can just tell her to go ahead and share it!

    All those stories about Universal or whoever cutting off video-game mods based on their movies? If it’s your movie, then you tell them good job and here’s some suggestions!

    Those stories about how thus-and-so classic book can’t be reprinted because nobody knows who owns the rights? And how Google tried but they got sued for it? Well, now we know who owns the rights. It’s you! And you can reprint it whenever you like!

  24. Yet another great essay about the writing business in flux. For aspiring writers like me (and everyone else, I suppose) it’s very helpful to see the old paradigms analyzed and discarded.

    I’m curious: Have any agents reacted to your essays yet? I’ve come into the business believing that agents were the one-and-only route to publishing novels, and I got my belief from internet articles… so I’m willing to bet it’s a widespread belief. But when someone reputable steps up and announces the whole agency business dispensable, they ought to shake in pants, because their goodwill is about to go down the drain. If enough writers start rejecting their terms or go independent, at least some agents are about to go out of business. So do they have anything to say for themselves, or are they just counting on this blowing over?

    1. Agents aren’t saying anything to me, Jakob, but I know they’re reading this. I don’t know what they think. Even my agent friends aren’t saying anything or yelling at me or taking me to task.

      However, a bunch of agents read the royalty statement post. While many of them are using it to benefit their clients, one big agency used the damn post to renegotiate their e-rights contract with a major publisher for all of their clients. The reason I sound annoyed is…the clause they negotiated is good for their bestsellers and sucks for their midlist authors. And the agency is telling the authors to sign. No one has checked individual writers’ contracts, and in many cases, the new clause is worse than the existing clause. And in other cases–oh, don’t get me started. I have a plane to catch. If you got one of these, folks, compare to your original contract and realize you don’t have to sign the new addendum if it doesn’t benefit you.

  25. My husband is now convinced he is an expert. He compared the publishing world to the music world 3 days ago. This was a fantastic blog that I think people need to see. After years of slaving over a book and trudging through trying to get an agent, I think a lot of writers will and rational thought is completely gone.

  26. If you think of the publishing world as it was until this past decade and compare it to the world patronage that existed throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, you’ll see similarities. It’s hard to write a book and hold a full time job at the same time. Yes, by bestowing a sizable advance, the publishing world gave the writer an opportunity to do write.
    The publishing world can no longer afford those advances, nor can they afford (nor can agents afford) to be the writer’s advocate. It’s all about the bottom line and survival.
    If writers want to survive this major upheaval, we have no choice but to become our own advocates.

  27. I went through all the comments to see if anyone else mentioned it, but one of the more disturbing things in the entire linked article – to me, anyway – was:

    “They conclude the evening by taking home a copy of a deal memo they wrote out and signed on the spot.”

    Dumb. I wonder just how many writers, actors, musicians, artists, businesspeople, etc., get screwed because they feel pressured to sign a memo or a contract “on the spot.” I can’t concentrate well enough on anything when someone’s sitting there watching me, so I prefer in almost all cases to say, “Thanks. I’ll take this back to the office and look it over and get back with you.” And then I read it a couple times. And often read it once or twice, then give it 24 hours and read it again to see if any legitimate questions arise in the interim. Contracts are designed to give the writer of the contract leverage (among other things), and also often to be deceptive about it, so if you have questions about something, ASK and VERIFY.

    1. Mark, you’re exactly right. Writers–and gee, home owners, car buyers–everyone gets pressured into signing bad contracts fast. Never ever do it.

      Julia, exactly. And I’m not sure the advances benefitted us in the first place. (Look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s career as compared to Hemingway. Fitzgerald demanded advances; Hemingway didn’t care.)

  28. Re: short fiction. Will recording my short stories as podcasts and making them available on my blog hurt my ability to sell them to paying markets? Is that considered previously published? Also, any podcasts on the writing biz you recommend?

    1. Short answer, Silver, yes, the podcasts are considered published. And check out Mike Stackpole’s podcase, The Dragon Page Cover to Cover. There are more. I just don’t have the time to look them up at the moment.

  29. Another excellent and most welcome article. I’m going to just automatically mark all of these as “keepers” since they have been consistently of such greatly insightful quality.

    Part of the new publishing reality that I’m liking is exactly the lack of gatekeepers. The downside to a lack of gatekeepers is the unending tsunami of poor work that is published. Fortunately we are rapidly growing our own methods of filtering to show the best. Everyone is curating and recommending articles to others that, collectively, we are surfacing the best either through Google’s PageRank or via social networking communications.

    As you’ve no doubt seen, your articles are rapidly moving up Google’s rankings and being seen by more and more. I can’t think of a better thing to happen to these articles.

    1. Thanks, Robert. Congrats. And yes, when you write well, people want to read your stuff. 🙂 Word of mouth is a great thing.

      JR, I hadn’t seen that. Wowza. I had no idea. I’m just thinking out loud here.

      James, I love that Jay-Z quote. Marvelous. 🙂

  30. And to think that at one time I wanted nothing more than a record deal. What a disappointment that would have been.

    Thanks so much for the post. I didn’t know writer’s contracts could be so terrible. Not that it mattered for me. I gave up on finding an agent as soon as I realized it would be easier to win the lottery. And now I know that the lottery would have paid a lot more.

    I completed my first novel in 2007 and self-published it via POD. Then I wrote four more books and published them. Sales were very slow, and I was getting discouraged. Then the Kindle came along.

    Now I have seven books in the Kindle store, and one of them is currently #71 on the main Kindle Bestseller list. Very exciting. Even though my books are all priced at $0.99, I’m still making much more than I would be with an agent and publisher. Last month I made $3,200 on the Kindle Store. This month it looks like I’ll do at least $6,000.

    Sure glad I didn’t find an agent. 😉

  31. Back around 2002 or so, I started doing some screenwriting, and the more I learned about the business in Hollywood, the more I was reminded of those boxing movies of the 1930s and 40s. Everybody owned a piece of the boxer except the boxer himself. He generally had to just do as he was told because he “owed” everybody for all his “training costs.” And so when the word came to take the fall, he had to take the fall.

    Maybe, subliminally, that’s why even in publishing, agents have always given me the creeps.

    And when I came back to publishing from Hollywood, I couldn’t help but feel I was still in a boxing movie. Especially since in Hollywood _agents_ are regulated by law. Literary agents seemed more like Managers, who are the sharks with the wishy-washy job description. (They get to take your money, AND get attached to your project as a producer, who then gets to mess with you on the other end.)

  32. I’d like to suggest two other (highly entertaining, too) books that will show what other parts of the entertainment industry do/have done, as slowly oozing into the publishing segment:

    William Goldman, Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade

    Pierce O’Donnell & Dennis McDougal, Fatal Subtraction

    Why are these important to authors? After all, authors deal with publishers and bookstores, not gold-medallion-wearing H’wood producers!

    (1) Don’t you think it might be a good idea to understand what happens when people are expected to share in “net revenues”, and the commercial publishers are trying (despite antitrust law) to establish “25% of net” as the standard e-book royalty?

    (2) Do you really think it’s a coincidence that commercial publishers are moving toward “net revenues” as a basis for author compensation (even for the basic print rights!) when so many commercial publishers are owned by H’wood-dominated multimedia conglomerates (H-C by Newscorp/Fox; S&S by CBS; and so on)… and many leaders in commercial publishers’ legal and contracts departments have made the west-to-east trip in the past four years?

  33. Thank you, LP! That is a great article, and if only, if only more writers considering the equity model would look at this and come to the sensible conclusion that sharing equity, forever, is a bad idea.

    Thank you as well, Kris, for updating your advice to new writers, and for putting in the time to stay up to date on the shifting sands of the industry…and then to share it with us all.

  34. Thanks again for another thoughtful article Kris. What do you think is the main driving force behind the changes in the traditional business model. The economy and financial pressure?

    1. Livia, I think the corporate mergers caused much of it. The business became a “real” business, not a group of like-minded people. You can see it starting in the 1970s and accelerating from there.

    1. I’m sorry my comments are so short in response, y’all. I’m traveling and trying to get everything up on a limited wi-fi connection. Maybe more tonight. Great posts and thanks for all the wonderful comments!

  35. Computers and Internet have changed the model for all businesses—why do artists think they’re different? Even 5 years ago, as a college student, I had to use the Internet to find out what my homework was for some in-person classes.

    Doctors, teachers, web coders, lawyers, everybody has to keep up with changes in their industries. Even proofreaders/copyeditors have to keep up with changed spellings. (*mutters uncomplimentary things about the recent changes for e-mail and smart phones*)

    When I was an office administrator, I had to make business decisions that upset me as a person. Firing the really nice lady who could’t be trusted to show up to work due to life circumstances being really bad atm, etc. I had some… memorable negative incidents, too, when folks got mad. Hey, I was even laid off from a place due to an unexpected lull in sales that meant they couldn’t afford to keep me; the company owner was more upset than I was. Business & friendship are 2 different arenas. When they work together, it can be great, but it can be emotionally terrible when a change is needed for the business.

    It’s a pity that writers aren’t more organized, because a writer’s strike might do some good. Agents and publishers would have to change their horrific agreements if nobody would sign them. But writers can be a shortsighted lot, desperate to get published, and the contracts are taking advantage of that.

  36. The music industry is a wonderful metaphor for many reasons, including (apparently) the way that independents can leverage iTunes for distribution.

    Another excellent example is PC gaming. It grew from guys in garages to a full-fledged billionnaire industry run by the standard corporate risk models… and then a developer created an online distribution platform called Steam, with low barriers to entry, and independent game design exploded. As it turns out, customers are very willing to pay a little less for something a little different. Who’d have thought?

    Anyhow, great article. I’ll be bookmarking this as an answer to ‘why have you gone independent?’ questions.

  37. The music industry practices outlined by Steve Albini have been around for quite a while. My father was in a semi-notable Australian band in the late 1960’s and back then the band members received a weekly per diem and management and the record label did quite nicely. In the late 1980’s/early 1990’s I worked as a busboy and general dogsbody in a nightclub that had live music 2 to 4 nights a week. I got to know a few unsigned bands – at the time there was one main record label, one booking/touring agency and one merchandising company. They each had seperate owners but to sign with the label you had to sign with the other two companies – the record label also advised unsigned bands which lawyers could help them. A couple of bands asked my advice and I told them to look for a lawyer that hadn’t been recommended. The lure of fame was too great and one band I knew was in the hole for close to six figures (in very early 1990 Australian Dollars) after the recoprding of the A & B sides of a single and a music video. The worst thing about the contract was that even if the band split and the members all managed to get “regular” 9 to 5 jobs – their salaries could be garnisheed by the record label to recoup the oustanding debt. I did an audio production course when I was in my mid 20’s, during the 1990’s (as part of performance management at work – I work as an audio-visual technician) and the majority of musos doing the course were “all about the art, man” and the commerce side was “dirty.”

    Over the years I’ve dabbled with being a writer – what’s always made me pause is that solid business information about publishing in Australia has always been very scarce.

    I’be been an avid reader of both your blog and Dean’s blog and I have learnt an invaluable amount of information.

    Lastly, just to satisfy my curiousity is the title of this blog post an oblique reference to Prince changing his name to the symbol to get out of a record contract?


  38. Thanks for the post. My husband is a musician and I’ve been well aware of what has happened in the music industry. It is all too clear that it is happening in the publishing industry now too. It’s important that writers are aware of their rights and know exactly what contracts contain before signing them. That’s true with anything though. This is a new age of publishing. Things are definitely changing and I’m very excited about the control writers can have over their work if they take the time to learn how to use these changing times to their advantage.

  39. In my writers’ guild last Tuesday, we went through the steps on Amzon to publish an e-book. Easy peazy. I have been trying for at least a year to talk these women into pursuing self publishing, with little response. They’re dedication to traditional publishing was staunch. BUT, after seeing how simple it is to e-publish, that with a click of a few buttons they could have themselves on Amazon, you should have seen the change. They finally got it! Now I’m not saying that’s all there is to it, an Kindle-published writer still has to market his/herself. BUT, that’s how it is with authors in traditional publishing now. So really, why put up with their crap when you have to market yourself anyway? I am so happy my fellow writers are finally starting to get it. Thanks for your post.

  40. It seems you forgot one link in your pre-2006 publishing chain (which you addressed in the previous post) :

    Writers proposes the content (product) to Agents

    Agents forward the content to Publishers.

    Publishers distribute that content to Distributors.

    Distributors distribute books to Bookstores.

    Bookstores distribute that content to Readers.

    Yes, that’s (as you point out) an other unnnecessary link that can be gotten rid of …

    1. SF Reader–no, I didn’t forget. I think writers who have pitched to agents have never understood publishing. My list is what it is and has been for decades.

  41. I wonder if why a lot of the writers still go with the publishers/agents and whatnot is because we get worried if we can make it totally on our own (which I think was the title of a early 80’s R&B song). By self publishing, at least from what I’ve read of your blog and your husband’s, it appears that it is all on your shoulders. Atlas. Whereas with the agents and the publisher you get the feeling- even though you have both shown that it’s mainly an illusion- that you are being nurtured. Taken care of. That you can write in your solitude and your champions will be out there doing what is best for you and your stories (like they try to imply that sports agents are with their clients). Where with self publishing, boy, it’s scary. “Can I get the cover just right?” “What if my story is not good enough?” “I’m such a shy person, but I have to get out there and sell my wares like a door to door salesmen in the 1950’s.” (Pretty much what you said in one of the first blogs that I read of yours ma’am: The smart writers will succeed in this market, the others won’t. I’m guessing that the unsmart writers are the ones that still cling to the publishers and agents. Heck! I’m as smart as a rock and even I sometimes still find a stray thought about getting in with a publisher because if I am really good they will take care of me ala Neil Gaiman’s publisher or Joe Hill’s.)

    Makes me wonder if what the literary world of self publishing needs is mentors/Big Brothers again to help the newcomers become comfortable doing it themselves. (I mention this because I’ve been reading a book by Robert Silverberg where he talks about how James Blish and others were mentors to him. And I remembered reading how other writers in the 20th century were taken under the wing of older authors. Kind of a pay it forward thing.)

    Thanks for the space to ramble, ma’am.

  42. Thanks so much to you and Dean for writing these posts and helping spread awareness of the dark side of these changes. I have a question, though: I am, by your definition, an “aspiring writer”–a writer who has finished several novels but not yet “broken in” (except one short story in a semi-pro market). A few months ago, you wrote a post in this series addressed to the beginner/aspiring writers, in which you said you weren’t sure whether writers in my position should go entirely indie or should still pursue a traditional print deal. How has your opinion changed since then? Because if I’m reading between the lines, it seems like you’re saying new writers should avoid traditional publishing, start out self-publishing their work as ebooks, build their careers that way, and wait for the publishers to approach them. Is this correct, or am I missing something? In other words, how exactly does this translate to advice for newer writers trying to break in?

    1. Good question, Joe. If you’re a fast writer, you can submit a novel or so a year into traditional publishing. But if you’re not a fast writer, I don’t think you should bother. Of course, it’s all up to you.

      Short stories, on the other hand, still work–and work better–in traditional publishing. Short story markets limit the time period that they have an exclusive. So you can do advertising with short stories in traditional markets and put your novels up yourself. Imho.

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