Back in the day, anyone with personal issues, a typewriter, and a couple thousand dollars could become a ‘published’ author. Simply take your masterpiece to the printer (nicknamed a Vanity Press), and pay them to print you a truckfull of books.
So, you ended up with a truckfull of books that sat in your garage. You gave one to your Mom, sold a handful to friends and family, gave away more copies as Christmas Gifts, and a year or two later you had….
…a truckfull of books sitting in your garage.
The Demand on Print
Fast-Forward to 2008, and although we don’t have any flying cars yet, we have made some fabulous advances in print technology. Digital printing technology has made short runs of books profitable, as little as ONE copy. Pay a setup fee and upload your masterpiece to the publisher over the internet, then order as many (or as few) copies as you need, as often as you need, whenever you need them. No stocking. No warehousing.
So thanks to the technology/business model of Print On Demand, anyone with personal issues, a personal computer and a couple hundred dollars can become a ‘published’ author, and they still have room in the garage to park their car.
Obviously, many authors who subjected themselves to the traditional publishing system (and succeeded) resent this new system that opens up what was previously a gated community. They worked hard to get into the publishing pool, and it pisses them off to see the gates wide open and people of all heights and talents jumping in. They would argue that the self-published author is as much an “Author” as someone who buys a medical degree online is a “Doctor”. They equate this new system of Print on Demand with the old Vanity Press publishing.
There are similarities. There are differences. But what’s pointed out by advocates of the traditional system is that there is no “approval” or “acceptance” of the material with POD or Vanity Presses. I’ll point out that there is no proof that this acceptance procedure makes for better books. I’ve seen professionally published crap as well as self-published genius. But I can sympathize with authors who worked their tail off to get a manuscript published, and now the market has turned into a free-for-all with this new combination of POD/Internet.
And publishers? They see the new system as a threat. And rightfully so, as I discovered…
The Unfair Book Fair
Last weekend I was at an Author’s Book Fair, and I watched a panel of 5 publishers discussing POD publishing. You can probably guess what they had to say. Their mantra was, “You get what you pay for.” They poked fun at the quality, and they cried about how the POD business is cutting into the Real Publisher’s market.
The discussion quickly shifted to how to “bypass” the wretched POD methods and run your manuscript down the traditional route. They proceeded to tell a roomful of hopeful writers that their books weren’t going to be published without some sort of track record, a platform, an image, a marketing plan, and a visionary (or what *the publishers* thought was visionary) manuscript. One even suggested that they expect the author to shoulder the financial burden of the initial printing.
What I didn’t hear was the POD businesses representing their side of the story, because they weren’t invited to attend the panel.
Do the Math
So, let’s add this up – independent artists, working around the existing system by directly targeting their audience through the internet with product of questionable quality, and undercutting an industry which only exists by selling other people’s work?
Wow, are we talking about the publishing industry, or the music industry?
Turns out the two industries really aren’t so different. Getting a book deal with a publisher is similar to getting a record deal with a label. The contracts and advances are based on the same business model. Those with the marketing money and distribution connections make the rules, and they pick what they think will sell. The handful of Stephenie Meyers and JK Rowlings make up for the hundreds of hacks like Conrad Zero who should be thankful the publisher was willing to lose money just looking at their mid-list manuscript.
Meanwhile, the internet came along, gave the authors the power to market and distribute themselves, turning Publishers into middlemen who now hold panels telling people not to publish themselves, but that they have a snowball’s chance in Hell to cut a deal with a real publisher. And if they actually get offered a publishing deal? Well, they better be ready to cut off their own genitalia and sell their own kin for a chance at the big time.
And, um… where does that leave me?
For a while there, I was torn about how to proceed with my own writings. I was waffling about getting an agent, and all the work that the traditional publishing route involves. Making the connection between the Publishing Industry and the Recording Industry made this decision a little easier, and the options now are a little clearer.
I can set up my own publishing company and order books via Print On Demand.
I can follow the publishing industries advice, and start sending out query letters. Or find an agent.
Either way, I still have a lot of work ahead of me. Since ISBNs, invoicing, book keeping, and Schedule Cs don’t frighten me, the first option is probably the best option for me at this time.
And to the panel of “professionals,” I’m disappointed. You meet to rail on your enemies, but don’t even have the balls to invite them to defend themselves? This just advertises your fear and your cowardice. You harp on the negatives of POD, and ignore the advantages, then turn around and tell potential authors that we should sell our souls to you for the honor of a form rejection letter?
Consider this your form rejection letter from me. I’ll make my own way. Thanks for the advice.