Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why Some Traditionally Published Writers Aren’t Self-Publishing

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Image by Purpleslog, Flickr
Sometimes when I’m scanning my blog reader or reading through some of the messages from writer loops I’m on, I’m stunned by the lack of recognition or acknowledgment of the rapidly changing industry on traditionally published author blogs.  This applies to some agent blogs, too, although certainly not all of them (among agents, Rachelle Gardner is probably the very best at addressing the topic.)

These authors will write about the writing craft, querying, the waiting period before their books release, promo…nothing about switching to digital or any of the upheaval they must surely be experiencing/aware of in their dealings with traditional publishers.

I’ve certainly seen changes in publishing and I haven’t been in the business nearly as long as some other writers.  For one thing, it used to be fairly standard with paperback mysteries that contract extensions were in 3-book increments.  Now you’ll frequently get a contract extension one book at a time.

In my online interactions, I’ve been surprised at the lack of conversation regarding switching to digital and POD.  From time to time, a traditionally published writer will get in touch with me when they’re exploring going to self-pub…but only to ask if I know cover designers or editors, never to ask my opinion on making the switch.  This is interesting to me, considering I’ve got a fairly high profile as a hybrid writer.

Occasionally, I’ll rock the boat a little.  I’ve urged writers I know to experiment—to try putting something up as a self-published book or short story.  This is met by a variety of reactions…many times negative ones.

I’m just surprised there aren’t many other hybrid writers like me.  There are more every day, but not nearly the number that I’d expect.

Here’s what I think is going on:

The main excuse I’ve heard for not exploring self-publishing is time.  Some writers have got contracts for several years into the future and don’t see themselves starting another series for self-publishing. One writer told me that she just didn’t have the time to write anything other than the series she was already working on (and was contracted out for years for.)

I’ve also observed a sense among some authors that if they’re publicly vocal about self-publishing that it will somehow hurt their traditionally published career…that it will hint at their unhappiness with traditional publishing or imply criticism of it when they don’t actually feel that way.

Some writers aren’t connected enough with the writing community to know how best to approach self-publishing or see it as a huge time-suck of a challenge.

There also seems to be a preconception that self-publishing is for projects that aren’t commercially viable. If they have something to publish, they’re hoping to shop it to traditional publishers—they think it’s too commercially attractive to self-publish it.

For some, there still seems to be a stigma attached to self-publishing.  Some writers appear to believe that self-publishing would make it appear that they were dropped by their publisher or that their series were discontinued.  

Some are so used to having the production process taken care of (titling, copywriting, editing, design, formatting, and interior design) that the thought of taking on these aspects of the business is completely overwhelming.

Others seem to be running into non-compete clauses.  More on those contract clauses in this post by Kristine Rusch: “Competition.”

And here’s just a general observation: the group that seems to be most enthusiastically making the leap to self-publishing (and with the most commercial success) appears to be the romance writers.  Frequently, these are really savvy writers. Many of the romance writers that I’m acquainted with are older writers (middle aged and up) who have been in the business for decades and have huge backlists.  They’ve very nimbly adapted to the changing industry and are finding significant commercial success…sometimes for the first time in their careers.

This topic might engender some discussion…the reason I’m bringing it up at all (since I’m not exactly the type who wants to be a lightning rod of any kind) is out of concern for these writers, moving forward. And the fact that I'm somewhat frustrated and mystified.  If these writers are simply satisfied with their current situation…I’m wondering how long that’s going to continue being true as advances decrease and bookstores close. As publishers tighten their belts and take on fewer manuscripts. As publishers merge or close their doors.  I’m wondering why they aren’t testing the waters and exploring a bit.  I think many of the above reasons for not exploring self-publishing are hooey.  I worry these writers are burying their heads in the sand and some of them are great writers--I would miss their stories.

If you’re really cautious about self-publishing and you’re traditionally published, there are ways you can minimize your risk. Write under a pen name.  Write a short story or collection of shorts as an experiment.  Spend time each day developing a new project for self-publishing. Or spend time figuring out if you can get the rights back to some of your backlist.   Start reading up on industry changes, if you haven’t already. Read blogs by writers and industry insiders like Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, Mike Shatzkin, and Kris Rusch

Consider your career...this is a business. Tune in.

That is all. :)