Last night I read an article about a woman who complained she felt cheated after self-publishing her novel with a large online company. The woman admitted to being “very ignorant about the publishing industry” when she agreed to a proffered contract, but said she believed the hype on the company’s website, including a promise that her book would be available through major bookstores.
The hard truth hit her when she tried to set up a signing in a popular chain bookstore. The store’s assistant manager keyed the title of the book into her computer, but after one look at the publisher’s name, immediately nixed any talk of a signing. Why? Because the publishing company would not accept returns.
Try as I might, I couldn’t summon up a whole lot of sympathy for this woman, and I’ll tell you why.
Despite all the information available both in public libraries and on the Internet, she didn’t do her homework before signing away her rights to a company that many in the writing business call an ‘author mill’ for unsuspecting novices.
A little digging on the ‘Net would have revealed that the company in question has a checkered past that includes lawsuits by disgruntled writer clients. While calling itself a ‘traditional publisher’, it provides few of the services furnished by legitimate presses large and small, like comprehensive editing, access to wholesalers and distributors, and accommodations for bookstores to return unsold stock. In short, this ‘author mill’ survives by publishing anything sent to them, then pressuring the authors to buy their own books for resale through ‘special author’ deals.
The uncomfortable truth associated with the above story is this: like the woman featured in the article, too many ‘wannabe’ authors toil for years writing and rewriting their novels while devoting little or no time to learning the ins and outs of publishing.
I was once a wannabe author. Unlike the woman in the article, I began to educate myself about the business side of writing long before my first novel hit the bookstores. I didn’t learn all I needed to know at the time, but I made a good start at it, and I continue to study the publishing industry as it evolves into a much different animal than the one I first became acquainted with fourteen years ago.
I certainly don’t claim to be the last word on publishing; there are people who have been writing for decades who could expound on the subject much better than I. But just as others in the business have shared their knowledge with me, I’d like to share what I’ve learned with those who hope to someday see their work in print.
With that objective in mind, I’ll be writing a series of blogs on “What Every Writer Should Know About Publishing”. I’ll be covering topics such as the history of publishing in the U.S.; the consolidation of publishing companies by multinational corporations; the rise of the small press world wide; understanding publishing statistics; royalties and advances; publishing terminology; services provided by agents and editors; e-book and print-on-demand technology; book promotion and niche marketing; contracts; bookstores and libraries; and media savvy re print and Internet advertising.
I welcome all comments and suggestions from readers of this blog. Please add to the discussions here by sharing your knowledge of the publishing industry with us. Feel free to correct me if I occasionally make a blunder; mystery is the genre I work in, so romance, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror writers – among others – may look at some aspects of publishing differently than I do simply because of the varying demands of their genre.
I'll be making new posts to “What Every Writer Should Know About Publishing" on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Mondays on Cicero's Children are reserved for book reviews while the week still ends here with "Fun Fridays".
Hope you can join me on Thursday when I open this series with a brief history of U.S. publishing.