The Business Rusch: R*E*S*P*E*C*T
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.)
Thanks for putting this out there. I am a woman of so many years, writing my brains out and never been professionally published. I have been inching toward taking the step, getting my toe into the ice water, for sometime now. This clear advice resonates with me. A writer friend sent me here by commenting on facebook. It seems the mysteries of the print world are being revealed at last.
Renee — you can join organizations like MWA or SFWA with full voting rights membership with sales of short fiction to pro markets while continuing to indie publish other short fiction or longer works. Plus, pro market short story sales will get your name out to the readers that the pro market has already cultivated, which will drive some readers to look you up online to see what else you have available. And with short fiction, you’ll get more money sooner by selling to a pro market than you will by putting it up yourself. When the rights revert back to you (and watch out for the contract to make sure you know when they do), you can still indie publish the story as part of your backlist. Win, win, all around. 🙂
Thanks for answering Renee, Annie. Good suggestion. I’ve been neglecting the comments and I’m sorry about that. Things have gotten unbelievably hectic here. I will try to catch up soon, but no hard promises. 🙂
[…] them. This was from a person who has been in the business for quite a few years on both sides. This is the link and it gives a lot of great insight from someone who has been in the business for […]
I am the proud owner of several rejection letters from you and I’m a fan (I love your short story “Spinning”) and I enjoyed the SF mag you edited for years and I couldn’t agree with you more.
Your ire was directed and focused and righteous so I’ll say it for you.
These editors and publishing houses have had this enormous subservient talent pool that they have fed from for a century. They feed us shit and we are happy to eat it.
The publishing industry is “American Idol”: A bloated, self-satisfied, myopic endeavor dedicated to finding someone who writes just like last year’s bestseller.
The next great musicians are playing in dive bars and clubs: honing their voices and their craft and their art.
This POD/ebook revolution is our club scene. There is and will be a lot of shit and pretense and posing (which actually benefits those of us who outline and rewrite and proofread) but this publishing revolution is undeniably the future.
I had two short stories published on “Thuglit.com” and was contacted by a big NY agent who wanted to read something longer that I’d written. So I sent him my latest novel “Tantric Zoo”. I received a terse: “Unpublishable in its present form” rejection: then promptly turned around and sold it to Bubba Caxton Books who brought it out in POD and ebook formats.
The Publishing Giants need to realize that they are not too big to fail. They have failed: they have pissed in their talent pool and we are tired of the taste.
So, thanks for your politely reined-in tirade. But I have to repeat for every Indie author like me who–for the first time in years–have hope: Fuck ’em Fuck ’em Fuck ’em.
what I wonder, as an honest point and not as an accusation, is if there are any little or unknown novelists who have had work plagiarized or stolen by a bigger-name author or publisher which went on to become a best-seller. Kind of like Hollywood where big name Directors or producers could take a good script, reject it, and then make the movie. Does that ever happen with book publishing?
Sometimes. That’s why major writers are very careful when and where they read a beginner’s work. Only in structured settings. I have a form letter that I send to writers who want me to read their work which they send to me unsolicited, informing them that I can’t for legal reasons. It’s an area where writers of all stripes have to be cautious.
Thanks yet again for a great post, Kris. Re Lee’s list (and nice to see his name), I’d discount the advance and the cover art as trad publishing advantages, the first for its continued decline and the second for the lack of control an author has. Yeah, an indie author has to pay for pro artwork and cover design, but the final product is under your control. To me, the only advantages to NYC / trad publishing lie in the still remaining cachet in the minds of many readers and the print distribution power, and I think that both are declining rapidly. And most of the disadvantages of indie publishing listed are addressed by a willingness to invest either the time and/or the money to hire the work out (and I’ll add a plug for Cindie Geddes’s Lucky Bat company here re those services).
Okay, first let me say that I’m an Indie Author and that my first forty or so rejection letters from agents discouraged me. I’ll admit that I’ve been a pansy in the worst way but that’s okay because I’d rather be a talented pansy than a talentless patsy.
It seems to me, Kris that this is more than standing up for yourself. This entire post says to me, “Go your own route and let the rest of the publishing world be damned.” I must say that I agree because while none of us have a buffer between ourselves and the harsh criticisms in the world of Independent Authorship, we still have ourselves and our unimpeded words and to me that means more.
The money is incidental for me more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, the money is great but even without the extra cash I would still write because it’s more a compulsion for me than a hobby. I need to write because then I can calm my racing thoughts and writing is the only thing that does the trick.
I do love being able to take all the credit for my own work as well. That and I’m lousy at listening to the nay sayers who’ve told me I can’t write which is complete hogwash and they know it.
Has anyone else arrived at the conclusion that the benefits of Independent Authorship seem to far outweigh the risks and that in the end, we just as a general rule don’t want to take over the world? We just want professional courtesy, respect, recognition and acknowledgement. That’s all.
As a reviewer and book blogger I am not so surprised that this is something that is happening in the writing world. With $$$ becoming the bit that drives those (okay some) in the literary world, I would say that this seems to be the norm. I do have to say though that I am late on the scene as I was just a reader prior to going all out with a blog to try and tell my opinion. I have been reading as many articles as I can because I support only “indie” authors on my blog and small press also with the occasional mainstream author. I would say that for the most part I see traditional and indie fighting over the same food dish when there is another one in the next room. These are the behaviors that will result in these types of struggles. For instance, you have a young editor and a very seasoned author struggling over a book and the editor wants to say I win cause we pay the money but the author saying I win cause I wrote the book. In my opinion you both win but it does not matter as I (the reader) lose cause now a book by what may be my favorite author is late and there is nothing I can do for I am only a reader. Maybe that is why I switched gears and went all out for indie, besides that my wife is an indie author, is because I fell that my voice is heard in the indie world instead of my voice being told to me. Don’t know but that is my two cents. BTW Kris, good job standing up for yourself.
I love the post, and I just wrote one about “the establish” that guest posted on Stephen Hise’s blog. The problem with self-publishing still seems to be the stigma, that all of us must write crap. It’s hard for the really good writing to stand out because unfortunately there is a lot of crap out there. Also, there are few organizations that we can join (MWA et al) as self-published that might give up some ‘respect’. It’s too bad as there is great writing being published by indies, but it’s hard to get the word (pun lol) out to the masses. It will be interesting to see how things change in the next few years.
So far I’m a “one book wonder” and only self-epublished at that, so I can’t offer any advice, only echo the others offering sympathy and note that, like many, I went that route after being rejected by traditional publishers.
But based on my own experience, I wonder if Lee’s first item (the big advance from the traditional publisher) is really valid, or is valid any more.
As I understand it from yourself and others, the time from providing the nominally-final version of the manuscript to the publisher to actual issuance of the advance check can be a year or more — I’ve seen two years cited. If you simply upload the manuscript, the book could be selling during that waiting time — and the royalty payments during that period might well be more than the advance. If I had gotten a traditional contract, the advance for a science fiction novel by an unknown would be nominal, $2-$3K as I understand the business. I got more than that out of the first month’s Amazon royalties!
That concept might not be valid for people like yourself, who have a track record and can get the advance before the book actually takes final shape. For those of us who are newbies and (at least as seen by an editor) can’t be depended on to finish the darn thing I think it’s an important consideration.
Oh YES! This is a great post. I don’t even have anything to add, you are so right on. I would just ask that any authors going the indie route not rush. Take the time for that learning curve. Respect your own work enough to pay attention to the package. And don’t lose sight of the story.ru
[…] and Massachusetts lawyer Pete Morin, I read an interesting post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose recent experiences with two editors prompted her to identify the advantages and disadvantages of the traditional publishing/agent model […]
As an editor myself (and a published author), I understand where you are coming from. You ALWAYS deserve to be treated with respect. 🙂
Thanks so much for posting.
In these comments I’m finding the names of some authors whose fiction I enjoy reading, but because of the frustrations of traditional publishing haven’t written anything for decades. The examples and enlightening information that you and Dean give on your sites seem to have encouraged them to try again, either to write or to get their writing out there once more. Yay!
And I’m always glad to hear from The Amazing Lee Allred.
Carolyn, the stories I’m getting behind the scenes are turning my hair white. (Okay, that’s genetics, but still.) Amazing, awful stuff. Just got one today.
All these great writers, discouraged. I hope they come back now that they have other choices. Thanks for the post.
Wow, that was a powerful rant, and I agree with everything you said. Although my wife has never been treated as you were (her work is in more than 30 languages and has sold a million copies in English), her agent told me I had no talent and her editor said I tell more than I show in my work, which is wrong because the writing group I belonged to called me out every time I did tell more than show during the writing of the rough drafts, which led to rewrites to convert tell to show until the group was satisfied.
In fact, It became a challenge to show more than tell to avoid the group calling me out.
So I went the indie route. The results–closing in on seven thousand copies sold, seven honorable mentions in literary contests and one finalist position in historical fiction in addition to more than fifty positive reviews–all from readers and no editors or agents wanted.
Due to the Amazon Kindle e-book revolution, do we really need shelf space in Barnes and Noble.
Yes, there have been a few negative reviews but mostly due to the graphic sexual content in my first two novels.
Science fiction, mystery and fantasy are three of the genres I enjoy reading and the cover of “City of Ruins” has grabbed my interest and so has the plot. You may have grabbed a new fan!
If “City of Ruins” is available on Kindle, I will download a copy today.
Thanks, Lloyd. Yes, the lack of respect is startling–and they should treat you well, especially your wife’s agent. But apparently these folks don’t think about that.
Sorry you’ve gone through this as well, but congrats on the indie success! The readers know what they like, and it often isn’t what traditional publishing tells them it is.
“City” is available on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it.
The question is why would anyone deal with someone who treats them like slime?
Friend of ours (who I will not name) shows all of the hallmarks of battered spouse syndrome. This person is absolutely terrified of trying to do anything on their own. He/She is one of those who got suckered into doing a freebie novella to help promote her series. Of course the book company didn’t give away the novella for free, they had their costs, and the novella sold in EBook format quite well. Made the company a lot of money, and made the writer not one damned cent.
The only publisher you can trust is yourself.
A lot of writers are getting suckered into that one, Wayne. And a lot are putting up with what just hit me this week. It makes me sad.
I’m sorry you were treated this way. Though it’s no excuse, I wonder if they were just taking out their frustrations on you due to job stress. Even so, no excuse. But I wonder where they come up with this c***? Hopefully they were just having a stupid day and will get over it soon. Either way, I’m pretty sure you can show them, through your writing and sales, that those guys are way off base.
I agree with Rick, Kris. This calls for pie!
Sorry this happened; I’ll be looking forward to details as you are able to share them. I keep trying to learn from others’ bad experiences, and this sounds like a doozy.
And it is the gift that keeps on giving, Chris. Such a day I’m having. 🙂
Folks, I must say that the support in e-mail, other blogs, and on this one is spectacular. I didn’t write the post to elicit positive remarks, but I’m happy to hear them. You all have been great. Thank you so much.
I think Lee is missing a few other items in his list.
– Librarians purchase based, in large part, on third-party reviews. For mid-listers, library purchases can be a significant part of sales. It’s easier to get Booklist, Library Journal, and PW to review a big publisher book than a smaller publisher book. And very difficult to get them to review an indie at all.
– Placement in the eworld. Besides bestseller lists and bought-this-bought-that displays, there are other displays at the book sites like Amazon. IF publishers are going to get placement there, they’ll probably have more $$$ to do that than an indie author.
As I repeatedly say, you can get reviews if you act like a publisher instead of a self-published writer. As a person who has run small presses, I know that PW/LJ/BL are just as likely to review a small press book as a large press book.
If you’re willing to spend the money for placement, no one cares how big your publishing company is. So I don’t think either of those fit into the traditional v. indie list.
I’m afraid the reviews are only half of it for access to the library market (or as my friend the selector likes to say at BookExpo, “million $ budget. No returns.” The other half is getting listed with the major distributors like B&T and Ingram. Getting that ISBN, and, if you’re publishing e-indy, getting your book on Overdrive. It’s hard for up us to get your book, and harder to replace it when we need to.
This isn’t too bad if you’re publishing in the adult market, where librarians don’t dominate the review process, but for the youth market… For the first time in 25 years of attending the ” best of” youth lit program at the annual state-wide con, we had someone bringing an Indy e-book, and it was because I brought it.
I hope that will change. I do my best to get the word out (overdrive has a decent small press / Indy packet) but right now it’s an uphill battle.
One other disadvantage: I have a friend who writes like O Henry: his final published books are thus a vast improvement over the MSS. He gets away with it when his work is published by the dinosaur press, not at all when small- or Indy published. So under disad.s for Indy, it’s fair to add “bias”.
I won’t mention the house, but there is a big SF/F publisher that for the longest time was run by children. Literally. They started as interns in HS and became acquiring editors while in college or just barely out of it. They were mentored by editors who had started just as young and with only a few more years under their belt than the people they were mentoring. They all had authors (both contracted to the house and aspiring) prostrating themselves in front of them and taking their word as gospel.
Some of those authors never moved beyond their first published book (which infuriates me because there are several I want sequels to read!). I know that is true for the careers of many authors, but, for some of the affected authors, it was largely due to their experience with those editors.
For all I know the publisher is still run by children — gotta keep the profit margin at a certain percentage, after all.
I suspect it might be worse, Ann, in publishing companies now. It’s cheaper to hire babies than to keep the experienced folk.
Laura Anne Gilman. I had a 3 book deal at Berkley with her as my editor. The first one she was moderately engaged. By the second book she was out to lunch and completely ignoring me, and by the third she left for NAL. I sent the first draft manuscript in, it came back as a galley. No notes. I can function as my own editor but was surprised that was expected of me.
People wonder why so many writers are so angry. These are the reasons why.
Thanks, Robin. Your post just proves that every writer has a different experience. Laura Ann treated me well. But even friends, folks I wanted to include on my short list, have treated me terribly in publishing houses. (One apologized and used the Lieutenant Calley defense: it was her job.) I agree: there are many reasons why writers are angry. These are just a few.