Wednesday, February 03, 2010

No, Really, Publishers Do A LOT For The Author

I wrote the note below in response to someone saying (for the 5,000th wrong time in this Amazon thing) that publishers are no longer necessary because of internet distribution of ebooks. It takes a lot of money to produce a book in terms of editing, copyediting, PR, and even gatekeeping (yes there's value to gatekeeping, it helps readers find books they have much better odds of enjoying). Now, this particular comment was a slightly more sophisticated version of the "you don't need publishers" argument in that it at least acknowledges that those things need to happen and suggests outsourcing. But that's still not a workable model because it ignores the economics of the situation. So let me address that:

Under the current model one of two things happens: 1) I write the book, my publisher buys (the rights), fronts all the other costs, and I get paid so that I can eat while I'm writing the next book—then, assuming I earn out—more money comes in on a regular basis starting between 6 months and several years after publication, allowing me to continue to eat. 2) My publisher buys the book on proposal and I get paid in advance to write it, then they front all the other costs and the rest follows.

If I want to become my own publisher I have to front all those costs myself and have to wait till the book earns out (maybe) to recoup those costs (again maybe) up to several years after I've fronted them. But, since I don't have a spare 5-20k* sitting around that I can bet on a possible return potentially several years down the line, what actually happens is I stop writing and find a new job and there are no more Kelly McCullough books. So, yes, ____ was pretty much all wrong.

And that's without accounting for things that my publisher does that don't go directly into the making and selling of the book, like my publisher's legal department—which I hope never to become any more familiar with than I am now. In a perfect world none of my books will ever get involved in a legal dispute of any kind, but if someone decides to sue me for any reason whatsoever in regards to my writing, the fact that I have a major publisher on my side significantly reduces the chance that a frivolous (or otherwise) lawsuit bankrupts me.

*Updated to add: I should probably also note that 5-20k is what a publisher pays for copyediting etc. and that the price they get based on their volume and reliability is much better than the price I would be likely to get for those same services.


Shane Ede said...

It's a good thing Zeus and the fates aren't real. You'd be in court til you died.

Kelly McCullough said...

Shane, you just made me laugh out loud, very nicely done.

Douglas Hulick said...

Good response, Kelly. I've been telling this to people here and there, but this is one of the better summations of the arguments I have seen (and I haven't seen the legal point brought up before).

Really, if I wanted to self-publish my books, I would. Lulu, anyone? But like you say, I want to put out a professional, presentable product that people will spend more time enjoying than parsing for spelling errors.* This Athenean idea that stories spring fully formed and finished from our brows, ready to be presented to an entitled public, gets old. It's not that easy, people. (Oh, that it were!)

There are a LOT of benefits with going through a publisher (many of which I am just now learning). I suspect the folks who make the "you don't need publishers to distribute books when you have the magix of ther interwebs" argument are some of the same ones who also believe that "bookz will be almost free to make and sell once we all have teh e-readers!" Both are very reader-centric, one-sided, economically naive arguments. Sorry to say, but I don't write solely to put shiny words in front of people for free -- if I did that, I'd blog a hell of a lot more. :)

* = That is not to say there aren't very good, well done self-published books out there. There most definitely are. And they take a hell of a lot of work to get that way. Its' not easy making a manuscript into a successful, professional book, even with computers. And I'd rather spend my limited time writing my next book than worrying about formatting, marketing, editing, and so on, thanks.

Anonymous said...

If I want to become my own publisher I have to front all those costs myself and have to wait till the book earns out (maybe) to recoup those costs (again maybe) up to several years after I've fronted them.

I've tried and tried explaining this to people and they just look at me like I've grown a second head.