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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Writing Wibbles

The last couple weeks, I’ve been doing just about everything but writing. Taxes, yard work, driving long distances, working… you name it. That changed a little in the last few days; I got a little new material down in Into the Icebound. But I’m starting to panic a little; I’m nowhere near done with adding beta feedback for Pickups and Pestilence. The only saving grace there is that my editor wanted to beta it, and opined there shouldn’t be much more to clean up. Whew. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about this week…

Set the Wayback Machine for 1989. At the time, I worked for a company, now long-defunct, called DCA. The management decided to give themselves a free vacation, and sent themselves to Hilton Head for a “strategic planning conference.” Uh-huh. They were out of the office for two or three weeks… and things ran more smoothly during that time than at anytime they were around. Imagine what would have happened if they’d just sent all the administrative assistants off for a couple weeks, let alone all the other employees: the place would have ground to a halt by Day Two.

Now, just a couple days ago, a link to The Passive Voice turned up in my Google+ feed. There’s a lot of gems in this post, like “At this stage in the disruption of the traditional publishing business, publishers need authors more than authors need publishers. Smart authors already realize this…”

Yes, indeed. Just like any company bigger than a mom-and-pop needs its employees far far more than it needs managers. After all, without authors, what would publishers have to publish? But the crowning glory comes at the end of the post, with a suggested “submissions” policy:
Publishers wishing to submit proposals for publishing any of author’s books should send them to queries@author.example.com. Proposals should be no more than 250 words and include the amount of the proposed advance, royalty rates for hard copy and ebook editions, the number of years of publishing rights requested and the amount of the guaranteed promotion budget for each book. Proposals that ask for rights for a period of longer than ten years or include ebook royalties of less than 50% of net revenue will not be considered. Regretfully, Author does not have time to respond to proposals that do not meet these requirements.
You can quibble about the details, but this is pretty good. Me, I’d give them more than 250 words to describe what they’re going to do for me. Other commenters said they’d reject proposals that weren’t strictly for print rights (ala Hugh Howey). Seriously, though, publishers are already cherry-picking the blockbuster indies—when they, like they did for Howey, make an attractive enough offer. But there’s a very finite number of indies who have that blockbuster pre-packaged for publishers to poach, and some of them aren’t interested in going traditional at any price. So the bravest and most forward-thinking publishers may soon start looking down-market, hoping to discover authors who haven’t “broken out” yet. They’ll find a hungrier crowd down there, authors that might be willing to jump at a mediocre or worse contract, and many works that require a minimum of preparation (i.e. already edited).

I suspect that will be a future version of the original Hydra/Alibi-type of publishing contract, tempting indies who are willing to trade control of their destiny for an up-front advance or that ephemeral “validation.” Perhaps, like Random House modifying those “e-publishing house” contracts after all the negative publicity they got, there will be a period of adjustment as both traditional and indie authors (and agents) have the opportunity to vet them. Agents will still be relevant, for vetting contracts and keeping everyone honest, but the whole “querying” process might get tossed out the window—if publishers are already expressing interest in an MSS, after all, that would eliminate the need to decide whether they could sell it to that publisher.

These are interesting times. And, as others have said, no better time to be an author.


  1. I like this approach. Traditionally, you want an agent to help sell the book to a house & make it a success. If you've already published your book and a big house comes calling, you'd need an agent to help manage a book that's already proven to be a success.

  2. Isn't that annoying whe tax and promo cut in the time you could use for writing? have fun back with the new project!

  3. Tony, good point. And, once a book takes off, you need someone to manage negotiations for optioning it and blah-dee-blah.

    Adriana, there's always something (or more often, someone) wanting to cut into writing time.

  4. As someone who's still learning how to write this is all fascinating to me. It makes me wonder what the world will like when I do finally decide to publish...


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