Thursday, May 9, 2013

Will My Publisher Let Me Self Publish Too?

Prepare for a rant:

Hello, its me again, drinking coffee, reading my morning emails.  And look what new gem of wisdom I found, an article from Rachelle Gardner, an Agent who "partners with authors to bring worthwhile books to publication."  Rachelle asks the burning question:

Rachelle very eloquently expresses the issues traditional publishers (TPs) have in allowing authors to self-publish simultaneously along with their traditional publishing business/contract.  She's very succinct in making all these important points for consideration.  Only an agent who caters to TPs and makes a living siphoning off an author's revenues would have the audacity to come out and say this publicly.

You see, Agents and TPs don't necessarily like the idea of their contracted authors going hybrid, and experimenting with self-publishing. Go figure.

Here's the list of issues Rachelle has with her contracted authors attempting to self-publish:

1. Branding issues.  TPs don't want your self-published works to mess up the author and/or series brand they have painstakingly created.  But it is your name, your novels, and your series that's been branded--right? Not. TP's probably have some fine print somewhere that you didn't even know you signed, that gives them some slimy toehold over your own name as BRAND. And who are you to go out in social media and use your own name without permission?  Silly author.

2. Quality issues.  TPs spend so much time, money and effort creating quality literature.  All those poor unguided fools in self-publishing could never produce the same quality without them. And of course, your inferior quality self-published works might adversely affect your good name and reputation and BRAND, which they perceive to own.

3. Time issues. TPs want your time commitment.  They want you to work for them.  Not for yourself.  Silly author, you thought you owned your own time!  They have your name, your BRAND, they control your quality, and your time.  Silly authors shouldn't be using their precious time to self-publish.

4. Promotional issues. TPs "don’t want your promotional efforts on your self-published books to eclipse their promotions on your contracted books. If they allow you to self-publish, they may lose their right to set boundaries on what you’re allowed to do promotionally, and this can be disastrous."

Oh the horror of it all! Heaven forbid you should compete promotionally with your contracted books, that's not fair.  You might outsell them.  You might make more money selling your self-published books than they pay you from your contracted books.

You might learn how to effectively promote and publish and sell your own books.  And then what would you need them for?

This entire article is sickening. 

Its about an agent who is losing books from contracted authors who are starting to realize they may not need to sign anymore of those shitty contracts with Traditional Publishers in order to publish their books.  Obviously, some of Rachelle's authors are contemplating self-publishing.  Better do your best to talk them out of it Rachelle, either that or start looking for ways to help them self-publish.

Maybe you could find a way to help your authors maintain quality.  Maybe you could find a way to help your authors publish, promote, and sell their self-published works.  But there wouldn't be any money in that.  OOPS.

NOTE: I found this article, through Joanna Penn, who blogged about it, and sent out emails to all her subscribers (me too):

Joanna Penn is a wonderful woman who has successfully navigated the labyrinth of self-publishing and has published a wonderful series of novels.  She regularly blogs on the publishing business, and ways and means of self-publishing successfully.

So, lets have it.  Comments, complaints, rants, hate mail, nods of agreement.  What do you have to say about this?


  1. Big nod of agreement. As it says in the Monty Python Holy Grail film (pauses to genuflect), "Now we see the violence inherent in the system..."

  2. Nice! You gave them "what for!" I enjoyed your use of the "TPS" as a heavy bag! Bravo!

  3. "I am entitled to nothing if I've done nothing" should be tattooed on their foreheads.

    I feel you on your rant, Travis.

  4. Go for it, Travis! Excellent rant!

  5. Why let these people do it when you can do it yourself?

  6. Maria LenartowiczMay 9, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    Just read the article and all the posts and Rachelle's replies. I have to point out that a) she is a self-published author of a book on self-publishing, b) that as an agent she negotiates contracts for her authors that do not limit their right to self-publish (i.e. she is fighting for the author, not against them) but c) she has to understand the publisher's pov in order to negotiate with them.

    Her article was intended to explain what that pov is. Her replies to comments indicates she feels she did a poor job communicating that explaining the publisher's pov does not mean she agrees or argues for it. She's taking quite a bit of flak for it.

    I think her article highlights how far publishers have to go to catch up with current reality and how much their whole philosophy centers on the business interest of the publisher and their shareholders. Sounds like the trad pub industry is changing very slowly or fighting the new paradigm, while indies are quick to follow up each new opportunity.

    1. Maria LenartowiczMay 9, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      But it was a superb rant! :)

    2. You hit some good points Maria!

      Yes, poor Rachelle is taking some serious heat. And I can see that she is honestly apologetic about the tone of her blog post, and wishes people viewed it differently.

      Apologies are cool.

      But the underlying premise to the whole blog post cannot be apologized away.

      Agents and publishers both, even those who consider themselves "progressives" who are "into" self-publishing, are still way over on the other side of the chasm of understanding that exists between TPs and Self-pub authors.

      Of her ten different apologies, she still didn't rewrite/change the tone of her blog for the past 3 days in a row.

      Either you enjoy stirring up the hornets nest with incendiary crap that fuels an already raging fire, or you want to educate the world about how self-publishing friendly you are as an agent. You can't have that cake and eat it too.

      She needs to take a position and stick with it. The only people who successfully straddle that fence are the rare handful of hybrid authors.

      And none of her apologies are going to change the minds of authors. The TP industry is headed for very harsh lessons. They have no idea how to sell authors on their value. They have no idea how unhappy a good portion of their authors really are. They have no idea how many traditionally published authors will turn to self-publishing in the next months/years.

      The Big 5 Publishers behave like a bloated, top-heavy ostrich burying its head in the sand to pretend nothing has changed.

  7. Great post, Travis. It's time that TP and agents realize that "the handwriting is on the wall" and their days are numbered if they continue to keep such a strong hold on authors without giving them the attention of years past.

  8. I was just talking to someone about this a few weeks ago. When authors are perfectly capable of self-publishing, for free, and places like Amazon are actually helping to promote those works (not charging extra), and the electronic formats are taking over, there is almost no need at all for TPs. Besides, Amazon offers print publishing, too. After all, the TPs don't really do much to promote you anyway. It's still considered your responsibility as an author to do all the dirty work of PR. They only bother to spend money on promo for you if you're a big name. Traditional bookstores are going out of business for a reason, and if publishers haven't noticed that they're not paying attention! Soon they will be out of jobs themselves.

  9. Hi Travis,

    Excellent rant. I read both Rachelle's original post and Joanna Penn's blog and response to Rachelle's post. What really irked me was when one such poster, defended Rachelle to Joanna and then wished Joanna Penn good luck with her endeavors. As though she needs that. She has worked her butt off, and all of her success is well deserved, including her recent short story and contest tie in with Kobo. Long live the indie!