Us vs. Them – A Call for Détente in the Author Wars

By Laura Drake

All of us at WITS have shied away from the Traditional/Indie battle. After all, many have waded into the fray, yelling their opinions at the top of their lungs. When we conceived Writers in the Storm, we pictured it a shelter for writers from the storms that brew in publishing. I believe we’ve succeeded, at least, so far.

But our silence has begun, for me, to sound like avoidance, so I thought I’d put my toe in the waters.

Susan Squires,  New York Times Bestselling friend of mine just decided to publish her next series completely independently. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised at first — after all, she’s made a living for years with New York Big 6 publishers. For me, she’s a poster child of Traditional publishing.

She made the decision after much contemplation and challenging of her beliefs:

  • She has retired from the nine to five, and frankly doesn’t need the advances any longer.
  • She’s seen her books on a shelf in the bookstores.
  • She’s had the validation — won the awards, had the accolades.
  • The thought of jumping into another publishing contract, her success or failure at the whim of someone else, just didn’t seem right anymore.
  • She has a readership, and a large mailing list.

She admitted that the technology was scary. But she felt she had a reputation to maintain, and wasn’t willing to trust that to anyone else. So she jumped in. Her first indie published novel is out now. I’m reading Do You Believe in Magic  now, and it is riveting.

While reading the latest from Dean Wesley Smith (you can read it here) I realized something new about why I made the choice I did.

But before you can make the right choice, you need to be clear about your motives. What do you perceive as success? What do you want for your career? How you answer these questions and those below should help make things clearer.

  • Are you looking for validation? Someone who is responsible for committing corporate resources, singling you out of the crowd, saying, “You. You, right there. I want your book.”
  • Are you willing to be edited? Not just line edits, but the structure, order and presentation of characters in your books?
  • Are you willing to give up control of the cover, and possibly even the author’s name on the cover?
  • Do you want a chunk of money up front, or are you taking the long view?

Whichever method you choose, for the love of yourself and your writing, please consider your choices honestly and carefully. We’ve got a post coming on Wednesday from Susan Spann, literary attorney, to help you define the terms that go into these choices.

But here’s the part I don’t understand:

Why would a choice you make about your career upset me? I really don’t get it.

It’s not that I’m not passionate about causes. If there is injustice, hand me a sign and I’ll join the picket line. If someone needs help, I’ve got two willing hands.

But how you publish is an individual choice. My choice affects only me, and my career. So why would that be seen by anyone as a threat or a judgement by me of their choices?

Not to pick on J.A. Konrath — I’ve giggled behind my hand at his blog’s clever condemnation of NY Publishing. At times I’ve even nodded my head in agreement. But I don’t understand why the  debate has to get vitriolic.

This is our call for détente in the author wars.

Writing is hard. We should be supporting each other.

In the nervous words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

What are your thoughts on the debate? What questions did you ask yourself before you made your decision? For those of you who have walked both the indie and traditional publishing paths, what do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each?

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27 Responses to Us vs. Them – A Call for Détente in the Author Wars

  1. Liz Flaherty says:

    I liked this post. You are so right.

  2. Laura, thank you for weighing in on this delicate subject. I have begun to feel as though we are all walking across a mine field and that at any moment all we have worked for can blow up in our faces. Regarding JA Konrath, I think he has worked hard all his career to become a success in traditional publishing and he felt betrayed by a system he trusted and believed in. His initial success has encouraged others to jump into the deep end of the pool. The success of a very small percentage has encouraged many to follow.

    Susan Squires represents another part of our industry: the seasoned professional who has a strong readership and can at this juncture take the leap. A professional diver who knows how deep the waters are before diving. That is a plus for many seasoned professionals, and also for those who pub’d for years through HQ or other publishers and have an extensive back-list they can buy back.

    What I see for many is that the validation and the security of traditional publishing no longer needs to be the only option … or as Rachelle Gardner said this month … look at your career for the long-haul. I worry that many young writers are being misled by the “hype” or ease of indie … but when the dust settles many of us will option to go in more than one direction. We must read and learn as much as we can about the iconic changes in our industry, create realistic goals and above all support those whose choices are not the same as ours🙂

  3. Joan Leacott says:

    It’s hard enough to make a decision like this without having the two sides screaming in my ear. I’m still trying the traditional route, though the indie route is tempting. Until I learned of some nasty conditions in a distributor’s contract–exclusivity, and the right to change my price without telling me. Ack! That second condition made my eyebrows go airborne. And then I came across this link to make it even more interesting: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/selling-ebooks-direct-how-to-set-up-a-simple-e-bookstore/

    • LauraDrake says:

      Wow Joan – more choices! I’m going to go back and read this more carefully when I’m not at work, but at first glance, love that this allows you to capture email addresses!
      Thanks for the link!

  4. Stacy Green says:

    The problem with indie is that so many writers still believe they only need a beta or crit partner. You’ve got to get an editor – and not just someone who’s published a book or two – a GOOD editor, if you want to put out a polished book. Unfortunately, that’s still a big issue. I toyed around with the idea recently because the money is really tempting. However, I still have A LOT to learn. That’s why I’m sticking with a small press for now. Frankly, the trade off on the money up front for self-publishing and sharing the profits with the small press is equal to me. And I’m not going to self-publish until I’ve learned more about the business AND I’ve made money to invest into my writing. That’s a personal decision.

    I do have serious qualms about New York right now, and I will continue to keep an eye on how things unfold, but right now I’m content to be with a small press that’s quickly rising in the publishing world and continues to put their authors first.

    I think the key in all this is to weigh all your options carefully, and as you said, make the choice for the right reasons. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. But I’d also suggest that you’ve got to be 100% behind your decision. Don’t set yourself up for regrets:)

    • LauraDrake says:

      Dead on, Stacy. I think some of the unfortunate indie novels I’ve read are new author’s anxiousness to jump in. Hoping they stop and take a look at the options…
      Good luck to you!

  5. gotghost says:

    I confess that I don’t really see a need for a debate. It’s a bit like poking at people with a long stick because you don’t think they belong in your schoolyard. There is room for both and while I appreciate it when anyone stands up for those things that they firmly believe, there are those that are quietly moving forward with Independent Publishing and are doing well with it. Controversy will always breed interest, and in this case sales. I will most likely never have the 2 billion sales that the author of Shades of Gray had, but I’m content with the fact that my stories are getting out there and competing with the rest of the market and finding good readers. Loyal readers. Traditional isn’t bad and neither is Independent. Just different. There is something to be learned by all when it comes to this dialogue. If we’re open to it.

    • LauraDrake says:

      Glad you brought that up, Got — a good reminder that many of us started writing not for the money, or the fame — but because we had something we wanted to convey. To touch other people the way that good books have touched us.

  6. Jenny Hansen says:

    Fantastic post, Laura! I haven’t made a choice about where I want to take my writing but when I push it to readers, I’ll be sure I’m ready before doing so. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and I want to make an astounding one.🙂

  7. Gerri Bowen says:

    I enjoyed oyur post, Laura. I think the decision will be different for every writer, and I believe decisions will change over time, too.

  8. Yes, Laura, we should all be supportive of one another’s decisions because we’re all writers and it is our own personal choice what we want to do with our work. And we should feel free and comfortable expressing our views to one another in this venue.

    • LauraDrake says:

      That’s why I’m thankful for our wonderful RWA-WF group, Patti. We’ve got to hang together! Wait – that didn’t sound right…😉

  9. Laura wrote a very cogent blog. The theme I sense from the above comments is very true. Be sure you’re ready, that your writing is ready, and that you’ve considered your options fully, whether you submit to NY, small press, or go out on your own. And other than that, it’s the wild west out there, and we’re all looking for the new rules when in reality, there probably aren’t any new rules. When we’re all living with ambiguity, it’s important to be kind to each other. That’s when we need it most.

  10. merryfarmer says:

    I agree with everyone who is saying that it shouldn’t matter and we should all just get along. With ONE teensy exception. RWA doesn’t recognize self-published authors as being published (at least in terms of qualifying for PAN, their Published Author’s Network). I find that just a wee little bit offensive, considering all the time and effort that goes into my books. Hopefully that will change. I chose to begin my career with self-publishing as a way to build a platform, and now I’m looking into traditional publishing. I love the phrase I once heard that “self-publishing is the new query letter”.

    But I also agree that too many people dive into self-publishing thinking beta-readers are a substitute for professional editing, and as a result they turn out half-baked work that gives everyone who chooses self-publishing a bad name. My editor is not cheap, but she is brilliant! She works for a publishing house and absolutely knows her stuff. And she’s made me a better writer because of it. So when I get the cold shoulder from an organization like RWA (who I love, don’t get me wrong) who doesn’t recognize my hard work or accomplishments because they don’t come with NYC’s stamp of approval, well, it’s disheartening.

  11. Great post. I was in the process of indie publishing Phoebe when I got an offer from an agent. So I’m going to go that route right now and see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, I’m more than willing to indie publish. If its a great book, how it’s published shouldn’t matter. Nor is it anyone elses business.

  12. Yvette Carol says:

    Well personally as a pre-published author, I’ve been watching from the sidelines with great interest. I did start out I admit waving a banner for trad publishing. I also am willing to admit I felt threatened at the changes at first. However, more and more I feel excited at the possibilities of Indie publishing. I agree with Bob Mayer’s recent post on his blog that in order to survive we have to ‘surrender’ to the changes. That way we can swept up in the heady excitement of it all. So I am feeling very positive these days. Vive la revolution I say!
    Yvette Carol

  13. Janie Emaus says:

    You’ve written a great post which has me thinking. My first book, a Young Adult novel comes out next month from a small publisher. I also have an agent trying to sell a few of my other novels. And I’m thinking of self-publishing, too. I think it’s just a matter of choice, no right or wrong way to go as long as the writing is the best it can possibly be.

  14. Couldn’t agree more, Laura. I’ve never understood why people are so quick to judge and are so easily offended by another person’s choices that don’t affect or hurt others. Strange. My usual thought is: Wow, it must be nice to have THAT much free time.

    Thanks for the thoughtful and much-needed post. Group hug! 🙂

  15. Jane says:

    Excellent post! Some versatile authors even do both, depending on the book and its market.

    I’d just suggest one more question to ask before going the self-pub route: How high-energy am I? Self publishing done right is a lot of work, and it’s time and energy that are often taken from your writing.

  16. Susan Spann says:

    Amen and Hallelujah! This is EXACTLY what I’m preaching every day, in my legal practice and as an author. It’s time for everyone to realize we are stronger together than the sum of our individual parts, and it’s not necessary to put an emotional weight on someone else’s considered choice! I don’t care whether an author is traditionally-published, self-published, or published on Mars…if it’s a good book I’m going to promote it – and the author – and there’s just no reason for the fighting!!

    Fantastic post. Thank you so much for taking this stand. I’m right here beside you.

  17. jadirogers says:

    Great post, Sharla. I don’t understand what the debate is all about, either. You have a book–you want to sell the book. Some books are Big Six books, some aren’t. I write western historical romance and those aren’t being published right now so the decision was made for me. Doesn’t mean my books aren’t good, but that the large publishers don’t perceive a profitable market for the sub-genre.

    At the same time, some authors might prefer the perks offered by the Big Six, and there still are many. I always urge writers to give trad publishing a whirl. Then again, some may not need them. Some prefer more control (that would be me), and some not. The bottom line is, we all love a great story, so let’s concentrate on writing more fabulous books and quit worrying about other authors’ decisions.

    One perk of the wild west of publishing, though–I’ve found some wonderful indie authors who are now autobuys for me, thanks to free reads and book bloggers. I love genre-blended stories and you can find plenty of them. We have jillions of reading choices. Love, love, love it! This little window is a great time to be a reader and a writer. Next year, everything will probably be different, so don’t get too comfortable!

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