What Writers Say To Agents After The Party
Many types of comments are generously added to articles, of course, here at Thought Catalog and in other places. It’s a form of sharing, after all, still relatively new in human correspondence. The closest thing in the past might have been those Letters to the Editor in newspapers — which had nothing like the real-time give-and-take of today.
The May 27 piece, “The Overselling Of Self-Publishing”: New Perspective continues to draw response. It referred to one of my friend and colleague Jane Friedman’s best pieces this year, How to Secure a Traditional Book Deal by Self-Publishing at Writer Unboxed (where we both are contributors).
By luck, I was sitting beside Friedman when she read the piece here at Thought Catalog. The 27th of last month was the first of two days in the International Digital Publishing Forum’s (IDPF) Digital Book Conference 2015. I had served as program director and Friedman was kind enough to expertly moderate a panel at my request. Is Online Social Community Likelier To Develop A New Generation Of Readers? Or Writers? Our panelists were Wattpad’s Ashleigh Gardner, Biztegra’s Murray Izzenwasser, and iShook’s Beni Rachmanov. They did a fine job.
As things have played out in the ensuing month, self-publishing authors have found themselves confronted with a change announced in how Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select will pay its writers: on a per-page plan instead of for each borrow of a book. If you need more on that topic, there’s this story here at Thought Catalog, Amazon’s New KDP Select Per-Page Payments: Everybody Has To Swim For It Now, and this at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook, Gaming The System: Amazon At Home And Abroad. We’ve had a good #FutureChat on the topic, too.
Some of the most thoughtful commentary about what the per-page payout might mean has to do with how critical it becomes for KDP Select authors to focus on quality. Rather than offering quick, short writes for borrows on the Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL) plans, many are now thinking more about capturing and holding readers all the way through their books — which is hard in any case, and especially hard in a world of electronic enticements and endless interruptions.
A new idea of patience, of careful craft, of renewed dedication to quality has appeared on the table of our debates.
And of everything that Friedman had written, her comments on the impatience she finds in many authors seemed to hit the rawest nerve. “The Overselling Of Self-Publishing” has had quite a lot of response to that observation, sometimes heated.
The Water’s Fine, Isn’t It?
Friedman’s main point was that she is being contacted as a consultant by self-publishing authors who want to know how to get traditional contracts. Her remark:
By far, the No. 1 consulting request I receive is the author who has self-published and wants to switch to traditional publishing. Usually it’s because they’re disappointed with their sales or exposure; other times, that was their plan all along.
That may not sit well, of course, with folks in self-publishing who feel themselves to be on a kind of mission to proselytize for self-publishing. Going beyond a recommendation (“I self-published and it went well, would you like to know more?”), these folks seem to feel that they must persuade others to take the same path.
Kindle Direct Publishing was introduced in 2007 and has come into its own as the terrifically viable option it is today, intensely valuable in so many cases, an honorable and now maturing option in publishing. But it is still that: an option. So is the effort to get into traditional publishing. There is no pledge of allegiance to the flag of self-publishing, nor to the traditional establishment. Neither pathway is a cause. The work is what’s important. And each creative person has the right and the obligation to make his or her best decision.
‘Most Of You Are The Rules, Not The Exceptions’
In a comment on the “Overselling” story, one of our good Thought Catalog readers lays out a deftly written response, in part:
I think throwing out the “impatience” accusation is both immensely arrogant and a slap in the face to the countless writers who’ve tried for years and years on end to secure traditional representation/publishing to no avail. Sure, it’s easy for agents and editors to look down their noses atop their thrones and sigh “so impatient,” as they continue rejecting 97% of manuscripts. I also think views like the ones pushed in this article are, frankly, the very skewed, biased result of editors and agents (I found this article via a smug retweet from a big-name agent) who are scared you-know-what-less that their livelihood is going to go up in flames in a decade or less, as more and more authors start to realize the advantages of self-publishing.
It’s perfectly appropriate for our reader to express his or her opinion, glad to have it. And I’m glad to have another viewpoint, this time from a literary agent.
San Diego’s Jennifer Azantian was with the Paul Levine Literary Agency and Sandra Dijkstra’s agency before opening her own shop in February 2014. And her commentary seems to take that reader’s input as her starting point.
I just wanted to say that most agents and editors (and I say this as one of them) are not coming from a place of malice or concern over livelihood when they bring up issues with self-publishing. Most of us are in this industry because we love good books, and we love working with authors. It’s true that there are some successful authors who self-publish, but for every break-out success story, there are thousands of disappointed writers who had no idea what they were getting into.
I’ve never met an indie writer successful enough to make a living writing (probably because they are busy being successful). I have, however, met far too many writers at conferences and thousands through email who were just uninformed about the process. About the work it takes. About the “self” part of self-publishing. About how self-publishing IS “real” publishing, not a trial, not a test run, but their actual debut into the community and that their success matters. Those numbers matter.
Even the ones I met who seemed happy and talked about how great the process has been publicly have secretly pitched me their books after conference and convention panels where they spoke with me about the business of writing. The reason? They aren’t as successful or happy as they thought they would be, but they don’t want people to know. There is truth in confidence and positivity selling books. They, however, want more. Not just more money, either. They want more support. More time to actually write books. More time with their families.
Yes, there are individuals who are brilliant and multi-talented who can write excellent work, edit, have cover-art made, and market their work successfully. Some of those people have posted here, and I am so happy for them. However, what they have done is an incredibly difficult thing to do while still putting out fresh, polished content. Even with all the money in the world, I think that’s beyond the average person’s abilities. At publishers, there are individuals, if not whole teams, dedicating all their time to just one aspect of this process.
I’ll interject here my own admiration, too, for the indie bestsellers I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Some of them are Barbara Freethy, Hugh Howey, C.J. Lyons, Bella Andre, the incredibly gracious Jasinda and Jack Wilder, Stephanie Bond, Tina Folsom, H.M. Ward. These are some of the most committed, talented, hard-working people I’ve met anywhere. What Azantian is getting at here stacks up well with my own experience. The powerfully successful independent writers seem born to what they’re doing, perfectly suited to juggling the suite of roles that merge in their success. That doesn’t mean that others can’t do what they do. It does mean that they bring exceptional combinations of assets to the table.
I was tweeting with Author Accelerator’s Jennie Nash this week. She’d written an article on what’s wrong with so many writing groups, an important piece, as my colleague Lisa Cron also noted. In our exchange, Nash referred to the “magical thinking” that seems to grip so many writers, whether in groups or solo. The Internet’s digital potentials look too quickly like probabilities, not possibilities. This isn’t just a problem for authors, of course, but for people in many walks of life who are finding that what’s reflected on our screens may glow a lot more brightly than the day-to-day actuality of workday struggles.
And what agent Azantian is telling us here is correct. The self-published route is difficult, just as is the traditional. Not everyone is cut out to be on the receiving end of the indie-bestseller rainbow, anymore than everyone can expect to thrive in the industry! the industry! of establishment publishing.
I want to return to Azantian for the last word, with my thanks for her compassionate, thoughtful contribution to our evolving understanding of what authors are experiencing in a changed business. Agreement is less important than being sure we get all our voices into the mix and respect each other. Her viewpoint is welcome here.
That’s why agents and editors write these articles. That’s why they speak out on panels when asked how they feel about self-publishing. It’s because of every author that sends us a heartbreaking email detailing all the money they spent, all the shady people who ripped them off, the bad terms they didn’t understand, the numbers they didn’t get…the hope that they still had a chance for that one book they loved most.
We write about this because we actually care about you guys. Because most of you are the rules, not the exception, and that depresses the hell out of us.