Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Self-Publishing and Having a Chip on One's Shoulder

There is an affliction sweeping the nation that until recently has mainly only been whispered about in private quarters, but which agent Sarah LaPolla and author Chuck Wendig touched on this week:

Some (some!) vocal self-published authors have a rather substantial chip on their shoulders.

Before we start get into name calling, let me state the following:

I love self-publishing! I think it's fantastic. I wouldn't by any means rule out partaking in this wondrous process someday and have been pro-self-publishing since the beginning of time, or at least since the mid-2000s. I think it's awesome that authors can find their readers without needing a traditional publisher.

And I don't blame people for being frustrated with the traditional publishing process. Yes, some people in traditional publishing are jerks and treat people accordingly. Yes, traditional publishing may well have overlooked your book. Yes, the query process is used as a torture device in some countries.

It's frustrating. But frustration is to publishing what carbon dioxide is to breathing: a poisonous but inevitable byproduct. (What many self-published authors don't yet realize is that this is true of self-publishing too.)

Also, when I say some self-published authors have a chip on their shoulder, this isn't about me complaining. These chips implanted in those shoulders certainly make for entertaining if slightly horrifying flame wars. People are welcome to say whatever they want, which is why the Internet exists in the first place.

I just don't think the chippy authors are doing themselves any favors. Here's why:

1) Your attitude could alienate people you might want to work with in the future

Publishing, whether self- or traditional, is a means to an end. It's about getting your words to readers.

And guess what: love them or hate them, traditional publishers happen to be pretty awesome at getting books to readers, especially when they're very motivated. You may want to use one of them someday.

Now, the idea of a publishing industry blacklist is approximately 110% myth. You're not going to end your publishing career by shooting your mouth off. But all things being equal, people don't want to work with a jerk.

Rejection isn't personal. There's nothing to exact revenge over.

2) You're turning off potential readers

Most readers, by and large, don't care a whit who publishes you. They haven't heard of 90% of the imprints out there anyway. They're not going to read you because you wear your self-publishing badge with excessive pride. They just want to know if your book is good.

Most readers would also prefer that the authors they read are good humans too. So that helps.

3) Your attitude reinforces the idea that self-publishing equates authors who were rejected everywhere else

Chuck Wendig puts this one better than I could:
Every time you yell about traditional publishing it just looks like a dumptruck full of sour grapes. Which leads us all to what is likely the correct conclusion: you self-publish because you were rejected and your peen is in a twist about it, not because you have a great story you want people to read, not because you want the control that self-publishing affords you.
4) If you are self-publishing out of frustration with traditional publication you're doing it for the wrong reasons

You should be self-publishing because it is the best career move for you, not because you grew impatient with traditional publication or arrived at self-publishing with a desire to stick it to publishers.

Are you sure you want to self-publish? Check out this checklist.

By and large self-published authors are awesome, entrepreneurial, creative individuals. Some loud ones are not. It's temping to join the loud crowd, but better in the long run to let your work speak for you rather than your frustrations.

Art: The Torment of St. Anthony - Michelangelo


Joanne Huspek said...

I have nothing to add. You've said it all.

Fiona said...

Publishing IS frustrating. Regardless, I don't think it is ever fruitful to be negative (although we all have our moments). Airing grievances in a permanent fashion is never wise.

Michaela Grey said...

Well said, Nathan. I decided to self-pub my first book not because I wanted to stick it to anyone, but because I still believed in the story after trying the traditional route for several years and finding the doors closed to me.

I haven't regretted it. But when my next book is finished, I will still seek an agent first and hope for a traditional publishing house to back me.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to be a decent person, not confrontational or "chippy", because if there's one thing I know for sure, it's how much I DON'T know still.

Keep up the good work, Nathan - I really enjoy your blog. :o)

Richard Gibson said...

Thank you. Some of your points, specifically 1, 2, 3, and 4, are right on.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

So young and yet so wise!

fOIS In The City said...

I can't believe I found you before the mad rush of comments. Great post as always. This is something many new and inexperienced writers need to learn. Also, there is always that six degree separation ... whether to Kevin Bacon or main stream publishing.

Did people think Amanda Hocking would turn down $4Mil in favor of "being her own person?"

Thanks Nathan, you and Rachelle Gardner are giving so many the facts they need to have to succeed, no matter what path they choose.

L.A. Jones said...

The thing about writing is everyone assumes its a great way to make money. Whether its traditional or self published in the end some people just want to make money. Problem is though whenever u choose a career u have to consider the pros and cons. The pros are great which include being a famous author. Cons however are pretty steep such as competition and frustration. It does frustrate me when some authors get recognition while I do not but I realize it's part of the writing path. Writing is not suppose to be easy. Nothing in life is easy so people need to understand that frustration is just further motivation to do better with ur life. One of the reasons I admire JK Rowling is the fact that in spite of everything she didnt give up. If she didn't then neither should I. So yeah writers have chips on their shoulders but the great ones know how to use it to their advantage.

Jen Bresnick said...

Spot on.

I'm not self-published because I'm bitter about being rejected too many times (although, uh, that doesn't mean I haven't been rejected a lot). I'm self-published because I love the control over the process, the immediacy, and the genuine fun I've had connecting with other authors and my readers on my own terms.

I've found that the majority of self-pubbers are actually very supportive of each other and the process. Even some agents I've talked to are saying that the stigma is going away, as long as you do stay positive about it and don't succumb to being overly defensive.

Bernie Brown said...

There's no room for a chip on one's shoulder in any aspect of writing. The only truth I've discovered is just keep writing and trying, writing and trying, no matter what.

historywriter said...

Good stuff. I sometimes cringe when I read rants by self-pubbed authors. There are many elements to publishing today and to be successful, support can come from the traditional side, so good manners are important.

I chose to self publish my novel because, yes, it didn't get the interest of agents, but also I felt that it was a good route to go for this particular book. I wanted to find out what the fuss was all about. And I think I was right. It's found a place in book clubs, libraries and stores.

I'm still pitching my other novels and hope some day they will be picked.

Stacey said...

Let me preface by saying that I'm a book blogger who gets daily requests for reviews from SP authors.

In my experience, most SP books I see aren't ready. I mean, either they have major editing or plot issues. I've seen tons with an interesting concept and thought, "If the author had spent their money on editing/writing courses versus SP, they might've gotten traditionally published."

Anyone who is considering SP should be required to take part in a critique group before they publish. Get others opinion before you jump in. Or, even better, take a writing course.

Another point I'd like to make is do your research. It sound amazing to have the control you get with SP, but you're also taking on all the marketing yourself. I don't think debut authors understand the kind of work it takes to get your book out there.

Matthew MacNish said...


February Grace said...

Everyone has to choose their own path and mind what they say...sometimes I don't think writers think about what they say enough, period, regardless whether they are traditionally published, self published, or unpublished.

Happy Tuesday!


Jenn Cooksey said...

"It's frustrating. But frustration is to publishing what carbon dioxide is to breathing: a poisonous but inevitable byproduct. (What many self-published authors don't yet realize is that this is true of self-publishing too.)"

Oh so very, very true! There is a HUGE amount of work to be done when you self-publish and if you don't have the wherewithal to pay someone to do that work for you, the determination to figure it out for yourself, and/or an unbeatable spirit, chances are excellent your book is going to languish away on a shelf in your home collecting dust bunnies that'll inevitably grow so large they'll elect government officials.
And I agree 100% about how shooting your mouth off will alienate people. Even sifting through ranting blogs trying to gain *useful* information on how to self-pub had me feeling like I needed a shower; the vitriol spewing forth was THAT pervading.
Great article once again, Nathon. Thank you for all you do for those in the writing game. You, sir, rock hard.

K.L. Brady said...

POW!! #thatisall

Josin L. McQuein said...

Sadly, it's a process of faulty logic. Like those logic flows that say: I live in a house; it's blue, therefore, all houses are blue.

*Jim Bob is a jerk.
*Jim Bob self-publishes.
*Therefore, self-publishers are jerks.

The problem is that, first and foremost, Jim Bob is a jerk. Self-publishing has nothing to do with it, but gets included in the disdain.

*Jim Bob is arrogant.
*Jim Bob refuses to call himself a self-publisher.
*Therefore Jim Bob thinks something is wrong with being called a self-publisher.
*Therefore, self-publishers are ashamed of the process.

Same thing. One guy makes a stink, but since he's louder and more in-your-face, he ends up being the de facto voice of a group he doesn't actually represent.

Sarah LaPolla said...

Thank for linking to my post, Nathan, and for bringing up the subject yourself. I think self-publishing has reached an exciting place and the "chippers" will eventually be weeded out. Digital has created a more even playing field, so there's little reason for writers to be frustrated anymore. I think self-publishing will be mostly "good stories by talented writers who've simply chosen a different route" within the next 2-5 years. It's just sad watching the frustrated writers give self-pub a bad name for now.

Sher A. Hart said...

Interesting. I haven't heard any self-pub author ranting or complaining in public against traditional publishing. In private is another matter. The indie author websites I've read focus on the control, time, and profits aspect.

I've heard far more complaints from indies about Amazon, both in erroneous price matching and for seeking exclusive sales in the KDP (not sure) program.

I only queried 6 times before deciding to rewrite from 3rd to 1st person. I'm keeping my options open while I build my platform, being positive and focusing on how to improve.

Lately I've blogged about editing to encourage indies to raise their standards. I put down over 90% due to poor editing. It's sad.

I don't comment much, but I read your posts with interest and often talk about them in my SCBWI critique group. There wasn't one where I live until I put up an ad in my region and created one. More indies should do the same, online until they find or make a local group.

Andy H said...

absolutely fabulous..... enough w/ the whiny noise and the debate about which ways is better.... they both great and both have pros and cons....stop the whining folks and get on with the business of selling your books

Mira said...

Wow. I can't post much now, but I don't think I've ever disagreed with you quite so strongly before, Nathan.

I think the world of you, but I see things very differently here. Although tone is always important, if people don't speak up, how will things change?

Yes, conflict and confrontation can make people uncomfortable, but they can be necessary.

More later.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary Ponzo said...

The landscape is littered with authors who'd been tossed to the curb and yet found an audience on their own, so I understand a little bit of "Gotcha," attitude coming from succesful Indie's.

I for one am grateful for the opportunities afforded me through the new digital age, but I would never blatantly bad-mouth the traditional publishing world for any oversights. In fact, a succesful Indie author should be enthusiastic over the ability to generate a higher commision than any tradition publisher could offer.

Which means, the real cuprits here are probably frustrated Indie authors who haven't found that sweet spot for their work and are now raising their fists to their past rejections.

Sort of like yelling at a bully who just turned the corner and is out of earshot. Except publishers aren't necessarily bully's, they're just stuck in an old delivery method grabbing onto old technology with bony fingers and chewed up cigars in the corner of their mouths.

See, that wasn't a meanspirited shot, just an opinion from someone who appreciates the present and embraces the future.

Doug Brown said...

I think the publishing world s frustrating overall regardless if you self-published or traditionally published. The important response is to not let your frustrations get the best of you in a public forum like the internet.
Before I was published, I received rejection letters all of the time. In fact, one agent didn't even get my name right when they rejected me. But I wasn't angry about it (disappointed, but not angry) and I may have ultimately self-published if I didn't get a publishing deal. But it wasn't to stick it to anyone. It was because I love writing and wanted to share my work.
Just my two cents.

S L Jenan said...

The only place I disagree is that I think frustration with the traditional publishing process is OXYGEN. Every rejection drives better prose, better characters, more interlaced, compelling plot.

Even if I do decide to go the self-published route (and the appeal there is the covered-wagon, pioneer kind), my writing will have benefited from the struggle.

JD Rhoades said...

Well, some of the most vocal "chippers", as you put it, are people I know who published some good books, worked like dogs to promote them on their own dime, made money for their publishers...and STILL got shitcanned for being "midlist" and not being bestsellers.

Even people in publishing will admit to you privately that the system is broken. On a number of occasions in my trad publishing days I was told with a sad smile and a shrug that "yes, we know this doesn't make sense, but this is the way we do it."

All that said, I agree you've got to let go of the anger and disappointment sometime. A nice payout from Amazon has a way of helping with that.

Anne-Marie said...

Thank you for reminding us that whatever route we take, bad manners and bitterness are never a good idea.

I'm always astounded that writers sometimes forget that things "said" in print are forever, somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I've worked hard not to be one of those self-published authors who has found success and has a chip on his shoulder.

But it's not easy, and that's because there's so much arrogance in old publishing. THEY have chips on their shoulders. Have you read the details of the DOJ settlement/suit with Carolyn Reidy? I think a prison sentence is needed here. This. Is. Criminal.

The main reason I went into self-publishing was because my publisher was screwing around with me. And then my publisher started to play games with me, using pen names and collaborating with other authors. And I got sick of it.

I do agree that authors should be careful not to have HUGE chips on their shoulders. But when you see an author who looks like he or she is bragging about success in self-publishing it's not always because of a chip on the shoulder. It's because they were screwed over by publishers who tampered with their careers...their incomes. That's serious business.

Frankly, Nathan, I believe you are a perfect example of an author who would THRIVE in self-publishing. If you don't believe me, write a short story, publish it for .99 in the KDP program, and see what happens. You need to hire a cover artist and a copyeditor. Instant Amazon bestseller! I would bet money on it. I've read your books: you're *very* talented, you have this platform established, and you would be well received.

Mary Maddox said...

I've had two agents. The first lost interest when I switched from literary fiction to thrillers. The second let me go when he couldn't sell my thriller for the advance he wanted. Emotionally, it was a difficult experience, but I understood why publishers decided not to take a chance on the novel. Since I didn't want to rewrite (again), I started a small press and published it myself. I'm now starting to publish other writers. The process has given me more respect for what traditional publishers do. But their business models lead them to reject some good writing that could sell. Hence the success of many indie authors. I've also learned embarrassment about self-publishing is self-defeating. So is resentment toward agents and traditional publishers. After all, I might want to seek an agent for one of my novels.

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, anon! We shall see.

And I should clarify that I don't think people should hide their disagreement and/or speak out about what they believe in. Just that the tone can be alienating to people who might otherwise be sympathetic to the argument.

Anonymous said...

I'm anon @8:48...

Just to clarify: You publish for free on KDP. You price the story @ .99.

I know some think that's too low. But sometimes it's about volume. I'd rather sell 10,000 books @ .99 than 100 books at 10.00.

People have book budgets.

Rashad Pharaon said...

Well said. No one's bound to either one.

You want to pursue Self-P? Go do it. You want to pursue Trad-P? Go do it.

Choice is good.

Julie Daines said...

Oh my gosh! Thanks you a thousand times over for writing this.

Debra Dunbar said...

Nice post!
I'm going self-pub on my first novel because I want to get my book out there in the hands of the reading public sooner rather than later, and I'm actually excited about handling the publishing and promotion aspects myself or via paid experts. I may be psycho, but that sorta thing is fun, fun for me!

Still, I love the idea of traditional pub and hope to go that route in the near future with other books.

Shevi said...

Great article, but I'm willing to bet any self-published author who reads this will not see himself in it, even if he does have a chip on his shoulder. (Strange expression, don't you think? What kind of chip is it? A poker chip? A cow chip? Bet it's not a Pringle's chip, because then they'd have no reason to be crabby. They'd just be chopping away on that chip. But I digress.)

I have less a problem with indie authors who see themselves as you and me against the giant, greedy, corporate, money-making publishing machine. They can shake their fists all they want. They're like flies on a horse. Why should the horse care? And I'm not even the horse, so I care even less.

What does bother me is that some of these authors who have chips on their shoulders take their rage out against readers.

Sometimes it's outright, like when these writers attack reviewers. You don't even have to be indie published to do it. I'm a Vine Voice reviewer for Amazon, and a group of other Vine Voices told me about one traditionally published novelist who does this on a regular basis. That's really a stupid thing to do. It's not going to get you better reviews, and it's not going to make the people reading those reviews feel less inclined to agree with the reviewer.

Sometimes the rage is less outright, but it's still really, really wrong, like all those self-published authors who beg people on Facebook to like their fan pages or those on Twitter who beg people to download their free or $0.99 e-books. Then they have a crying fit, because they couldn't get 100 likes or they didn't get to number one on the Amazon Kindle charts.

What these writers fail to understand is that the world doesn't owe them anything. If you write a book only for yourself--to boost your ego or make a lot of money--no one will want to read it. Why? Because there are thousands upon thousands of books out there that were written for readers, books that give readers something, books that entertain, inspire, or inform. I'm not going to like you or buy your book just because you want me to. There has to be something in it for me, the reader.

Anyway, what really bugs me about writers like that is that I'm indie publishing my novels now, and so many people think all indie authors are the same. It also bothers me that sometimes the noisy wheel gets the grease. (Hmm, maybe that chip on their shoulders is the British kind that comes with fried fish. Might explain the grease.) When the hard sell does work, it means one more reader who's likely to think my book sucks because it's indie published, and all the indie published books they've read suck.

I guess I could join them, but instead of screaming, "Like me, and buy my book!" I could shout, "My books don't suck!" Nah. I'll just let my work speak for itself.

Mirka Breen said...

Another good post. You are still Nate the Great.
A good reason to self-publish is because you are courageous, tireless, and want control over every aspect of the production. I admire the courage of those who go in for these reasons. Not being any of the above, I put my limited energy into writing and submitting, and now with traditionally published books, into some promoting.
If anyone thinks subbing will suck you dry, consider what being a full-time (self) Publisher will do to you. If you are up to it, you are heroic in my mind.
As to the jerks in the business, I actually think there are fewer than in most any other business. At least in kid-lit most folks are mensches.
But kvetching is a writerly prerogative. We’re so good at it, and without it- what’s the story?

Rick Daley said...

I went indie for my first book, THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS, and in several interviews bloggers honed in on my history with an agent.

That relationship ended after she went six months without returning a call or email while a different book was on submission with a dozen publishers. Not the best case study, for sure, and while the interviewers seemed to ask questions setting me up for a kill shot toward her, I don't view the experience as negative. The editorial feedback I received while she was communicating helped me become a better writer, and I am thankful for that.

My personal growth trumps temporary hurt feelings. Not to get all cliche, but she taught me to fish instead of handing me a fish.

I have another indie book coming out this fall, but I plan to go traditional for my current WIP. I believe in a diversified portfolio...

Anonymous said...

"Shevi" brings up a very good point:

"Anyway, what really bugs me about writers like that is that I'm indie publishing my novels now, and so many people think all indie authors are the same."

This is important for the public to know. All self-published authors are different, they all have different circumstances, and they all have different degrees of experience.

And not all are arrogant snarks :) When I released my own self-published book I made a point of not being arrogant because I didn't want people...readers and publishers I've worked with... to think I was doing it out of bitterness or arrogance. In my case, I just wanted to know what it was like to have control over my career and my work for once in my life. It's been a good experience so far.

Anonymous said...

1. Traditional publishers suck! They and agents don't deserve any of my hard earned money.

2. Real readers don't know who I am online where I complain (usually daily) about traditional publishers. I write and publish under pen names. Besides, readers read books, they don't waste their time on writerly blogs.

3. I've never submitted my work to a literary agent and I never will.

4. From what I've heard, going with a traditional publisher only leads to frustration. No thank you.

That "chippy" enough for you?

Sara said...

"Yes, the query process is used as a torture device in some countries." HA HA HA...{sigh} {bangs head on desk} YES.

I missed out on these chippy, entertaining rants and will now promptly try to find them.

Agree with all you said! I've met one self-pubbed author and was confused by what I'll call his bizarrely extreme defensiveness. It reminded me of the same sort of defensiveness that people displayed about online dating about 10+ years ago.
Them: "Yeah, I trying online dating...NOT BECAUSE I'M DESPERATE--BECAUSE I'M *NOT*!!! I'm just trying it because I'm tired of the bar scene!! NOT BECAUSE I'M DESPERATE!! But I'm definitely NOT DESPERATE...I just don't like to breathe cigarette smoke and be surrounded by drunk people. But I swear I'm really NOT desperate!"
Me: Dude. I never thought you were desperate. I actually think it's pretty awesome and online dating makes complete sense.

I bet in 10 more years, we'll see less defensiveness about self-pubbing.

Wyndes said...

I must be a uniquely lazy reader. I have never actually researched an author's history to find out if they've ever been mean to anyone on the internet before buying their book. *must work harder*

Anonymous said...

For the record, anon @9:34 is NOT to be connected in any way at all with Anon @9:53 :)

Sarah McCabe said...

I'm a bit puzzled by your post. I haven't seen the attitude you describe from... well, any self published author that I know of. In fact, all the whining I see comes from people on the traditional publishing side of things. And I see a lot of people in the industry looking for ways to knock self publishing and self published authors.

And as far as authors speaking out against traditional publishing goes, it seems to me that most of the really vocal authors speaking out against traditional publishing are very successful. It doesn't seem to be hurting them at all.

Danyelle L. said...

I agree 100%, but I think this goes both ways.

I have seen disdain and unkindness from those who self-publish directed towards those who choose to go the trade route. Name calling and over generalizing.

But I have also seen disdain and unkindness from those who are published commercially towards those who choose to go the self-publishing route. Other authors and writers who have flat out said that those who self-publish degrade their (trade published author's) talent and hard work.

I have pretty much given up on writer forums now, because of this attitude. I was sad to give up one forum in particular, because *in general* it's a great, uplifting place to be. But there are also a handful of vocal authors who paint everyone who self-publishes with the same broad stroke and look down on them.

I understand the chip that may be on either type of author's shoulder--trade or self-published--and sympathize. I do agree, though, that there is never a need for incivility. Never.

I wish there was a place online where writers and authors could go to support one another without judging each other on these silly hierarchies we've built for ourselves. So far, I haven't found one.

I think the biggest problem is that a vocal subset of each group paints the other with broad generalizations that cater to stereotypes instead of being happy that Author A found a path that works best for them. It may not be the best path for me, or vice versa, but that's okay. We both want the same thing, and it really shouldn't matter how we get there in the end.

Mira said...

Nathan @ 8:53, that I completely agree with! Tone is very important!

Karen Akins said...

Oh, this this THIS --> "It's frustrating. But frustration is to publishing what carbon dioxide is to breathing: a poisonous but inevitable byproduct. (What many self-published authors don't yet realize is that this is true of self-publishing too.)"

Indiana Jim said...

I'm not one for chips on my shoulder. It seems the majority of the vocal ones who really want to "stick it to the man" aren't among the more successful at it. Bitterness does not often drive success.

I have not published much aside from a couple small press things, but I WILL be self-publishing. Why? One simple reason: the math works.

Andrew Leon said...

I chose to self-publish for a number of reasons, not all of which I will point out, but I will mention a few:

1. The waste of traditional publishing -- I worked in a bookstore back when I was in college and was horrified when I discovered how many books are just thrown away every year. In a similar way that I am horrified about all the food fast food joints throw away. There needs to be a better way, and bookstores shouldn't be rewarded for poor ordering decisions. (Yes, I know this is a complicated system and it's the incentive of getting their money back that prompts stores to carry new authors, but it's a waste.)

2. I was ready. My book is good, and I know it's good. Kids love it. I didn't want to deal with the years it would have taken to get my book out there and, then, still have to do most (or all) of the marketing myself. If I'm going to have to do that anyway, I may as well be in control of the process.

3. Agents. And I know you were an agent, and I know there are good agents out there. However, it seems to be that the process has become reversed. Agents should work for the authors, which is how the whole thing developed, not the other way around.

Ryan Chin said...

Exuding anger and bitterness is never a good thing. However, a little bit of, "You can kiss my a$$" can be pretty satisfying too!

Just don't be malicious about it. You never know when you might end up teaming up with the big guys for wider distribution.

Agree with Anon. You have enough of a platform to self publish.

Hart Johnson said...

I've run into this on discussion forums--name callers--people saying I'm an idiot for pursuing traditional because I'm 'giving my money away. But the fact of the matter is GENRE matters A LOT (I write Cozy Mystery and YA--both still hot in traditional houses) and my personality dictates I need professional eyes after I think I'm done. I just know myself that well. This is a personal decision and anyone who does their homework and makes a decision is good by me. Anybody saying ALL PEOPLE should do what they do because there is only one way is annoying and I am probably going to tell them so.

Katie said...

Nathan, I TOTALLY agree with what some others have said. You should self-pub some stuff!!! You would make a killing, and it would probably be an enjoyable experience for you. I was absolutely invigorated creatively after switching to self-pub, because I had total artistic freedom and that is such a creative boost for me. You have the platform, the savvy, the connections, the talent, and you have tons and tons of fans and friends who could give you advice or help. You could do VERY well for yourself...just saying.

Of course I'm eternally grateful for traditional publishers, because (as one person once put it) they've given me almost every favorite author I've ever had. But I now know it is not all sunshine and roses. Many, many friends have been screwed over by their contracts, their agents, their publishers and they've started speaking out about it honestly and loudly. There's a lot of ugliness in the industry, a lot of grossness that shouldn't happen, and some people have chosen to speak out strongly against that ugliness in order to help people avoid getting stuck with a terrible contract or other problems. I am SO PROUD of those who have made it their goal to inform writers about their options and the potential pitfalls they could encounter as they seek to be published.

Now, when you say "self-pubbers with chips on their shoulders," I don't know who you are talking about, although I immediately think of several names of famous and outspoken indie authors who might be described as having "a chip" on their shoulders. I will avoid mentioning anybody by name here, but I am thinking of at least 4 off the top of my head. But the hilarious thing is that all of these self-publishing authors I'm thinking of have decades of experience and at least dozens of books in traditional publishing (or they have experience with law, or contract negotiation, or whatnot). They aren't making a boogeyman out of trad publishing...they are speaking from their own professional experience! If a company or organization screws you over professionally, and you say "you know what, never again," and then you tell other people what happened and how to avoid it themselves, that's not a chip, that's just basic self-respect, not to mention kindness when it comes to the warning other people part.

HOWEVER, yes, I don't think all authors are cut out to go it alone, as it's hard work and you essentially have to be an entrepreneur. Also, I think that the flame wars between trad and indie authors should stop, and I think that all authors should respect and support each other rather than fighting. We need to be on each others' sides, not at each others' throats!! It's as bad as the mommy war stuff, with the breastfeed/bottle stuff and all that.

Helen Hollick said...

I so agree! I am an indie author in the UK & traditional mainstream in the US, so I am lucky, I have the best of both worlds.
I am also the Historical Novel Society's UK review editor for indie published HF. Most are not too bad a read, a few are gems - more than too many are rejects. Why? Because the authors have not taken enough trouble to find out how a book should look when it is published, or have not had the thing edited (and sorry SP people, yes I know editors are expensive - but if you want to be taken seriously as an author - do it properly!) Most of the authors I contact about rejects are thrilled at having the errors pointed out, repair them and re-print. But those with a whole fish and chip shop on their shoulders.....? oh boy! I've had some not very nice responses ranging from "My book is fine, that's how I want it" (what? with the text left justified?) to "Everyone who has read it loves it, you don't know what you are talking about." Fine - I didn't love it and I do know what I'm talking about (occasionally)- and maybe the reason I've rejected it is the same reason agents and publishers have rejected it: the book is not well written enough. Everyone can write a book. Not everyone can write a readable book.

Melissa said...

RE: "Well, some of the most vocal 'chippers', as you put it, are people I know who published some good books, worked like dogs to promote them on their own dime, made money for their publishers...and STILL got shitcanned for being 'midlist' and not being bestsellers."

I can certainly understand why traditionally-published writers take the self-publishing route after they get fed up with the industry itself — or because the industry gives up on them, often prematurely. However, I have very mixed feelings when they turn into "chippers" who can't find a single good word about the very publishers who handed them a built-in platform. Essentially, an audience.

Let's face it. Had some of these folks never been traditionally published in the first place, they'd have -0- street cred with self-published writers who are absolute beginners.

stephanie Queen said...

Speaking of tone, the tone I dislike most--more than chippiness--is preachiness. You know, that preachy holier-than-though judgmental tone.

It comes across in blogs that tell you all about what you should be doing and not doing. You know the kind of blog that scolds those practices that it judges to be bad for whatever reason, by other bloggers.

That's the tone I dislike most.

I think everyone has a right to their own chip and a right to write all about it.

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for tackling this prickly subject Nathan. I talked about it on my blog last week, too. Mostly I'm concerned about new writers feeling bullied into self-publishing by zealots who tell them they're morons to bother with querying agents. It's not an either/or issue, as Laura and Holly and others have said in these thoughtful comments. Many, many successful authors use both self-and trad. methods. Shoulder-chips are getting in the way of real dialogue.

Roger Floyd said...

As an unpublished ficton author, it's difficult for me to know whether regular or self-publishing is the best way to go--I have no experience with either one. I've decided to try it the traditional way first because I want to learn from the experience of agents and editors in the process. Perhaps self-publishing will be next. Then again, perhaps it won't.

Anonymous said...

A new anon because I am too lazy to log in.

I think that number two should be moved up to number one. I have put both J A Konrath and Barry Eisler on my do not buy list because of they're ranting and raving about traditional publishing.

I haven't put Bob Mayer on that list, yet. If he becomes unreasonable about the publishing process eg my way or the highway, then he'll get put on the do not buy list as well. Which would be a shame because I recommend his writing books and seminars to people who are serious about learning the craft of writing.

abc said...


amymarden said...

I echo Roger's comment (a few comments ago). I sent maybe 7 queries to agents after I finished my first manuscript...then I read it again and realized it was far from finished and they had good reason to reject me! I started working on #2 and polishing #1, and soon I'll be looking to publish again.
The pro self-publishers are loud and sometimes negative, but they also have valid points. I disagree that negativity is never the route to go. Sometimes people need to wake up.
That said, being negative or critical and being whiny and self-loathing are very different. I don't know about the rest of the writer-blog-readers, but I can usually sniff the difference in 3 sentences.
Thank you for this post (and all your posts) and the links to related articles!

Megg Jensen said...

We're not all chippy. ;)

There is hatred on both sides, Nathan. It's sad.

You'd think we'd all be united by our love of writing. Publication isn't and shouldn't be a competition.

I'm happy for my writing friends whether they self-pub or nab a trad contract. If they're happy, I'm happy.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Grr - my last post did somethign wierd>

Take 2

I agree.

i think some self pubbers are disgruntled with traditional publishing process and I think some traditional authors are frustrated that self pubbers can get books out to readers without going through the longer vetted process.

I think all publishing is valid and I would hate to see any of publishing on either side go away. There is enough to go around and every path is different.

I do think self pubbers need to be more aware of what they are putting out. And take more pride in their work to put out a good product that is edited and professional.

I think the dialogue is effective but it is important to be professional and positive when dealing with anyone.

Hating on each other is not going to help this industry move forward in a positive way.

Cant we all just get along?? :)

Kristi Helvig said...

I agree with some of this. I agree completely on the tone thing, but I think Chuck threw out the baby with the bathwater. There are valid points raised by those who self-publish, however those points can be lost in the mix when someone's tone is aggressive.

While it's true that people have often self-published because of an inability to find a traditional publisher, I don't think this will be the case much longer. Some writers who are business minded might want the added control of self-publishing. I adore my agent and am not opposed to traditional publishing, but I'm also very open to the idea of self-pubbing.

The danger comes in seeing one side as "bad," and the other as "good" when things are never that black and white. I think it's a great thing that authors have more options than ever before. :)

Anonymous said...

"I have put both J A Konrath and Barry Eisler on my do not buy list because of they're ranting and raving about traditional publishing."

Yes, they do rant and rave. The approach they take gets tired. But the problem is that everything they say makes sense. I'm not trying to be snarky here. I've read their posts and I've tried to prove them wrong. It's not very easy to do, especially the part about Amazon being right and legacy publishing missing that proverbial boat.

I know for a fact that the big six publishers had digital technology in the late 1990's. They knew it was coming and yet they dismissed it completely. I also heard more than one person in traditional publishing professional laugh at digital books. They were wrong. Time has proven this. So while I don't like the approach with Konrath and Eisler, I can't fault them for one, telling the truth, and two, for being open about the truth.

And I have read nothing they've said that could hurt a new author. I can't say the same thing about traditional publishing web sites and blogs. Many are still dead silent when it comes to e-books. Others have shut down completely because they have nothing left to say and they are being challenged for the first time.

The post Konrath wrote about the AAR sending a letter regarding the DOJ settlement was rich with truth...and common sense. Again, they are obnoxious. But they are telling the truth and no one else is.

Maya said...

"Chip on one's shoulder" is pretty vague. I am going to name a name: Konrath. He's outspoken against traditional publishing, but he's also made some EXCELLENT points. Let's face it, if you chose to go self-pub there are reasons. And one of the reasons may be all of the flaws in the traditional publishing path. If you think there aren't any flaws: you are blind and you need to read Konrath's blog.

For example: Konrath recently had an ex-Harlequin author show how she had been tricked into getting only a 2% royalty rate. Worse, agent Scott Eagan than said it was her own fault for signing the contract. Nevermind that it's an AGENT'S job to make sure their client understands the weird legalese in a contract. To trivialize that aspect, to make it sound like understanding a contract is easy, is so ridiculous and disingenuous. However, agents don't have to take a bar exam to become a literary agent. So most authors going the traditional publishing route have to risk having an incompetent agent and a horrible contract. Meanwhile, Amazon offers indie publishers offer a very easy to read 70%/30% split with no gotchas. So seriously, do you really think indie authors should just shut up and NOT criticize traditional publishing just because there is a chance you might go that route later? I don't think so. I can only *HOPE* that these self-publish authors continue to educate writers and that one day it might actually cause *gasp* the PUBLISHERS to make a change. By offering standardized, ethical contracts. Because until then, I really do want to hear why successful authors have made the switch to self-pub.

Maya said...

I'm sorry if I got carried away (above) but it's because there are reasons to be up in arms and some of the blogs have really shined a light to them.

Indiana Jim said...

Putting Konrath and Eisler on a "do not buy" list because they're outspoken about the publishing cartel is certainly your prerogative, but frankly they are KILLING it independently, and they do the math. You can argue with they're delivery, but not their facts. Everyone on the other side frames their arguments in esoteric dependency rhetoric and emotion.

The key point in this piece is a good one: you must decide what is best for you, no one else. Just don't whine when it doesn't work out the way you hoped.

Naja Tau said...

I'm a big fan of Konrath, but I get tired of arguing too. I think writing attracts chippy personalities, regardless of what subject they latch on to though. There are few other tools that will allow you to brood over your own thoughts and words like writing.

Mira said...

I completely agree that you could have wonderful results going indie, Nathan!

So, thanks for saying you the problem is more about the tone than the disagreement.

I agree tone is a problem I wish some people would be more careful, they can alienate the people they are reaching out to - as you said. I wish Konrath, for example, would re-consider. He's brilliant, but he's setting an example of tone and people are following it. It's unfortunate, because it can pit author against authors, which is frankly only going to strengthen the industry he fights against. But I am certainly glad he's fighting for authors, regardless.

I also wonder if some of the tone issues are growing pains, as people work out this new landscape.

So, I do disagree with you on an important point here, though, Nathan. It's always alittle tough for me to disagree on your blog. Please know that my disagreement doesn't mean any lack of respect for you or your blog.

So, here's my disagreement. I don't think people are having trouble with tone alone. I think it's the content. I'll give an example. I'm going to say everything I believe about traditional publishing in as neutral a tone as possible. But I wonder if it would still label me as having a chip on my shoulder.

This is what I've learned by listening to authors who have worked for traditional publishers. To the best of my knowledge, the following are TRUE:

Publisher exploit authors. They steal money from authors (both literally and figuratively). They have contracts with hidden clauses that steal money and rights from authors. They treat authors as if they were interchangable, unimportant entities. They infantalize authors. They steal e-book rights. They steal backlist rights. They make decisions about authors' books that hurt the authors' ability to make sales, and undermine the authors ability to reach the right audience. They treat the author badly by ignoring their opinion and forcing them to work to deadlines, while they themselves have few deadlines. They put authors into bookstores with no support, and then drop them from their list if the author doesn't make money, something that killed careers in the past. They (allegedly) colluded to fix prices that resulted in less money for authors. They have extremely simliar contracts and rate structures and fit the definition of a cartel.

So, what do you think? I think my tone on this comment was okay, although some words like 'steal' adn 'exploit' were alittle perjorative, but it was impossible to make my point without using those words.

If what I said above got reactions, its because it was breaking taboos. Long standing taboos in the publishing culture, taboos against an author criticizing publishers. And whenever taboos are broken, people get angry and defenders rise up to reinforce the taboos because it feels safer (even though it may not really be safer). Which makes everyone angry, and camps form, people get ostracized and targeted and everyone gets all upset.

It's called social change.

There's a saying by Arthur Schopenhauer.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident".

Helen W. Mallon said...


It's really helpful to stand outside and watch the feathers fly.

Balance. That's what we need. Thanks.

Terin Tashi Miller said...


I had a big long rant I've decided not to write.

You're right. But so is Mira.

See? No chip.

But would this discussion even merit attention if traditional publishers weren't the ones with the defensive attitude?

That said, like someone else was saying, I still try the traditional route with books I think might interest a publisher. Like a biography of my cousin, "Stinky," who lives on the Jersey Shore...

Nathan Bransford said...


I actually disagree on substance more than tone. Sure, in the worst of worst case scenarios some authors have been subjected to what you've described. But by and large there's a reason authors have in the past and still continue to choose traditional publishers - they do better for the author than they can on that own.

Now, maybe that calculus is changing for some writers. Every situation is different. But the idea that there is some mass exploitation happening and that authors are being conscripted into some traditional publishing cabal and self-publishing is a blissful relief from all that... I disagree.

I couldn't have done Jacob Wonderbar on my own. I like my publisher. Like any author I have my frustrations with the process, but I also recognize that I'm way better off having had a traditional than without. I may well choose to go on my own for future projects, but it's all about what's best for an individual project. Again, I couldn't have done Jacob Wonderbar on my own.

Sure - publishers don't always act in an authors' best interest. Sometimes there are disagreements. Sometimes publishers are wrong. But I trust all authors to decide what's best for their own career, whether that's traditional publishing or self-publishing.

Sheila Cull said...

I'm going to quote you. This is it, in a nutshell. Self-Publishing is a circle, I think a waste of time.

Here it is -

Nathan Bransford said, "Most readers, by and large, don't care a whit who publishes you. They haven't heard of 90% of the imprints out there anyway. They're not going to read you because you wear your self-publishing badge with excessive pride. They just want to know if your book is good."

Sheila Cull said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila Cull said...




Sheila Cull said...




Mira said...

Nathan -

Yes, I understand that we disagree about this. I think we always have, from when I first came to your blog. I think the second time I posted on your blog I was ranting about the exploitation of writers by the publishing industry, and calling for reform, and I've pretty much kept that up since then.

I will say that I am genuinely very happy that you've had a good experience in publishing! That's wonderful, Nathan. I want that for you - I want all your publishing experiences to be wonderful.

I also don't have a problem with anyone else publishing traditionally, as long as they are fully informed. I may secretly think they are nuts, but hey, it's their choice, and I'll support them.

So, in general I know my statements were strong, but that was sort of the point I was making. People are trying to influence the future, and other people may be trying to influence it in the exact opposite way, and there is alot at stake, so feelings are running high.

The question is, at the end of the day, even if we see things very differently, can we still agree to disagree and stay friendly as writers?

I hope so!

C.G.Ayling said...

Rejection might not be personal, but it sure feels that way. Nevertheless, I'll gladly take rejection...

Worse than rejection, to me anyway, is indifference - a word I feel better describes many agents.

Other Lisa said...

Wow...Mira, I have to strongly disagree with your statement starting with "publishers cheat authors" and going on through that entire paragraph. Yes, there are some bad actors in the traditional publishing world. Yes, as Nathan said, there are frustrations inherent in the process. And yes, books get dropped into the marketplace without sufficient support (one of my major beefs with the industry as it stands). But I have never had a single experience like the ones you state as being pervasive throughout the industry. Not one.

And this doesn't mean that I have anything against self-publishing. I'm curious to try out the hybrid model myself (some traditional, some self-publishing) -- I know authors who are doing that and really enjoying the best of both worlds.

Do I think there are problems in the industry? Absolutely. Pervasive dishonesty and criminal behavior? No.

I work with great people. Ethical, smart, creative and genuine believers in their authors and their books. That's been my experience in traditional publishing, for what it's worth.

Mira said...

Lisa, are you with a major publishing house? I thought you were with a smaller publishing house. That's a totally different thing.

I was talking about the Big 6 plus a few other major publishers.

I probably should have made that clear, sorry.

In terms of why I made those statements, I got all of my information reading tons of posts from legacy published authors talking about their experiences. And yes, they report publishers stealing from them, stealing rights and stealing money both literally and figuratively (by figuratively, I mean ridiculously low royalty rates, setting prices on books too high, delaying checks, etc.)

But I didn't mean to imply that bad, unethical, evil people work at publishing houses, even the Big 6. I'm sure terrific people work there. I'm talking about the place they work for, the upper eschelon, not them.

Other Lisa said...

Mira, I am with a mid-sized publishing house here in the States (it's gotten a little too big to be called small any more) and one of the Big Six in the UK.

Here's the thing: I talk to a lot of traditionally published authors. We trade stories and experiences. There's a lot of bitching, like you'd expect. There is also a lot of praise. What there isn't, is a high incidence of reporting thievery and/or blatant dishonesty.

I do know of a few houses where really hinky things went on that I think fit the characterization you made of publishing as a whole. All three of them are largely romance publishers, and none of them are actually Big Six (I don't think).

I could go through my list of how I think traditional publishing could and should improve (as a side note: I really dislike the term "legacy" publishing. It's use is too often indicative of an agenda, which is what we're trying to avoid here).

If you asked most authors, I think you'd hear a lot about more consistent marketing support and higher eBook royalties. You'd hear about not overpaying for titles at the expense of just about every other book in the house.

My US publisher is an actual independent publisher (don't get me started on the use of "indie"--if I self-publish, I will call it "self-published"), and I think their business model is really smart, and that Big Six houses could learn from it.

The biggest problem with the Big Six, IMO, is the corporate structure they are a part of and how that encourages short term thinking, but I don't want to get too off-topic here, and that's a very tough problem to untangle, in any case.

I just think that generalizing about pervasive illegal business practices and exploitation is a mistake, and it doesn't fit the experiences I've had in publishing.

FWIW, my Big Six UK publisher asked me for feedback on their cover concepts. They asked me if I was willing to be involved in advertising brainstorming and the like. They've been a delight. I have no idea if my stuff will sell well enough for them to be able to make the business decision to continue working with me, but I can't complain about the experience.

Mira said...

Lisa, I'm heading off to bed, so I'll respond more fully tomorrow. I'm glad we do agree about the lack of support, etc. :) but here's a quick point. The Department of Justice and 36 (?) States sued the Big 5 for illegal activity just last month. Big huge lawsuit. I believe for criminal illegal activity. And yes, I'm talking about other types of illegal activity here, but just wanted to mention that.

And I've heard some nice things about UK publishers although not enough to have an opinion.

Other Lisa said...

Mira, I do know about the DoJ lawsuit. I'll just say there are arguments to be made on both sides, and leave it at that.

Trisha said...

Nobody likes a loudmouthed jerk. Well, I don't anyway ;)

Marilyn Peake said...

aeThe Department of Justice has brought a lawsuit against five of the Big Six publishers, publishing giant Rupert Murdoch is in serious legal trouble for a phone-hacking scandal and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has filed for bankruptcy while Amazon has struck a deal with Waterstones to sell Kindles and is in the process of opening their own bookstores. People, and not just authors, are talking about these issues, not because they're envious, but because these are important issues, almost as important as what is going on with Wall Street and mega-corporations. I find it interesting thspeak uas the big publishing houses are in serious trouble both legally and financially, blog posts are chastising self-published authors to mind their manners. If writers don't speak up, who will?

Marilyn Peake said...

Well, that may just be the last time I try posting a comment from my tablet. My last comment was apparently turned partially into gibberish when I tapped the screen. I will re-post it here from my computer...

The Department of Justice has brought a lawsuit against five of the Big Six publishers, publishing giant Rupert Murdoch is in serious legal trouble for a phone-hacking scandal and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has filed for bankruptcy while Amazon has struck a deal with Waterstones to sell Kindles and is in the process of opening their own bookstores. People, and not just authors, are talking about these issues, not because they're envious, but because these are important issues, almost as important as what is going on with Wall Street and mega-corporations. I find it interesting that just as the big publishing houses are in serious trouble both legally and financially, blog posts are chastising self-published authors to mind their manners. If writers don't speak up, who will?

Marilyn Peake said...

OtherLisa said:

"Do I think there are problems in the industry? Absolutely. Pervasive dishonesty and criminal behavior? No."

That's not what's in the news. I think one of the main problems is that traditionally published authors only know the really nice people who work really, really hard day in and day out at the bottom rungs of the mega-publishing-corporations. There are very nice people working in all the bottom rungs of all types of corporations and in Wall Street and insurance companies. That doesn't mean there isn't pervasive dishonesty and criminal behavior. That's for the courts to decide, as they have access to far greater evidence than any worker bee does.

Nikole Hahn said...

Agree. I am so tired of reading and hearing that chip on the shoulder. My goal is traditional publishing, but I know many nice self-pubs who don't have a chip on their shoulder, but I also have witnessed the ones that do. It doesn't make me want to get to know them at writers groups or conferences; I won't visit those blogs or read their books. I won't review their books. That's how much of a turn off it is for me. I like people. I just don't like artsy people who think every word is too holy to edit. ;o)

Rebecca Jones said...

I'm firmly 'on the fence' with this one. If I've got an excellent story- I'm confident that it's got legs, and I've shown it to others and they generally feel the same way, my first step will always be to make sure that the workmanship is good. When I've got a cracking story, well told, I'll send it via appropriate 'traditional' routes. If I'm rejected, I can either decide that they were right and live with it, or I can entertain the idea that, perhaps, on this occasion, the experts (I use the word without any sarcasm or irony whatsoever) called it wrong.

I'm not against self-publishing. In fact, I think it's perfectly healthy to have mechanisms which exist so that writers can challenge what can seem a very autocratic separation of 'x is good, y is bad, x will sell, y won't' etc. However, I do agree that it is often used as a way of getting work out there when it just isn't ready. And a writer simply MUST learn to turn rejection into bread and water- just taking it personally and allowing that feedback to go to waste is not making anyone a better writer.

But what can traditional publishers take away from the increased popularity of self-publishing? I don't want to sound like one of the 'chippies' you refer to (I really do believe I am a professional, able to face up to the quality of my work with maturity), but perhaps traditional publishers should be using this as an opportunity to learn a little more about THEIR processes and ways of working. No-one expects them to sign onto work which is woeful, badly written and harder to sell than an England strip to a Glaswegian, but in order to retain their position as The Voice of what is 'good' and what is 'bad', I think they should make it their business to see this issue as a two-way street, rather than just some rejected, 'chippy' writers going off in a teenage-style strop and self-publishing because the establishment said no.

I would always try the traditional route first, but I would certainly go to self-publishing if I was that convinced that I had something worthwhile. I wouldn't consider that an arrogant action, and I would hope that any perspective readers or future publishers would be open-minded enough to recognise that I simply took advantage of the fact that there are now more 'ways to the Lord' than through publishing houses. It would never be a 'step one' for me, though.

Incidentally, I'm not sure I've ever encountered any of the arrogance that some people have obviously encountered around self-publishing- I will assume I've either been very lucky or very ignorant! In fact, most of the people I know who've chosen the self-publishing route have the advantage of sufficient previous rejection to inform their decision and to create a more discerning writer and editor- and perhaps even more so than some writers who have found publication with traditional publishers with marginally less trouble.

Thanks for an honest and insightful blog, Nathan!

Sommer Leigh said...

I very much agree with this post. Some of the most unpleasant people I've met online are ones who railed violently against traditional publishing like traditional publishing had come to their house personally and kicked their puppy. I'm done with a conversation as soon as someone starts demonizing those evil agents or worse, how gullible and naive the people are signing contracts with them. It makes me a little nuts when writers are belittled for wanting to go the traditional route, as if we do it only because we seek approval and a pat on the head, not because we don't have the personality or time to successfully pursue self publishing.

I don't think this rant is an all or nothing deal - it's not all self publishing authors are jerks who need to chill out and it's not all traditional published authors look down on self published authors from their ivory tower.

I think we're all playing the same game, on the same team, no matter who sponsors us. We all still deserve respect and honest discussion and an honest desire to enact change is not the same thing as setting a publishing house on fire and declaring, "I WIN. YOU SUCK."

Mira said...

Marilyn said: "If writers don't speak up, who will?"

Thanks! I couldn't agree more. I appreciate the information you added!

Lisa - Sorry to drop the ball last night, I was so tired, I'm not sure my last post even made sense.

First, I'm really happy that you're happy with your publishing experiences. And I love hearing you may go hybrid. Good luck! :)

I brought up the DOJ lawsuit (I checked and it's 31 States, not 36) because anti-trust activities is a criminal offense under Federal law which carries a penalty of up to three years in prision and/or up to 10 million dollars in damages, not counting what the States may sue for.

For a summary and an actual copy of the complaint, as well as a look at the evidence that publishers did do this, you can go here:

In terms of what I said about illegal action and exploitation, I mentioned in my intial comment my information was based on what I've read on the web. So, it may be that you and I are hearing different things because your friends may have different experiences.

It's always possible I'm wrong, but I can't really back down or change my mind here, because I didn't experience this personally (I'm not published). It's not hard data, it's anecdotal.

I don't know how pervasive it is, but I've read several posts about each one of these problems. And I also don't think it's an adequate defense of publishers to say that this type of thing only happens in unusual cases. It should never happen.

Since both you and Nathan questioned the accuracy of what I said, I'll give alittle more detail of what I heard. Where I got this: I read this in comments on blogs like Konrath, the Passive Guy, and other indie writer blogs. It makes sense I would find those stories there, since these writers are usually pretty unhappy with what they've experienced and would look for a safe place to talk about it.

So, details (I'll limit this to the criminal activities ones):

Publishers steal money from writers: I've read about situations where publishers play with the return policy, withholding the "reserve against returns" thereby keeping money that should have been returned to the author.

Publishers steal e-book rights: I've read of many instances where publishers have retroactively grabbed e-book rights for books that were published prior to the e-book technology. Recently a writer wrote that her publisher sent her a letter congratulating her for joining their e-book program. She never negotiated this.

Publishers steal backlist rights: I've read several accounts where publishers try to hold onto backlists, sometimes resulting in law suits that the writer wins (the ones I've read about). I've also heard about publishers simply delaying the return of rights for huge chunks of time, at least a year or more. This withholds potential income from the author.

They have contracts with hidden clauses: I was talking about Harlequin here. I'll admit I have not heard this about the Big Six, although I do hear their contracts are completely unfair to the writer.

Btw, Konrath today takes on the problems in writer contracts:

Problem with his tone or not, if you are a writer, you'd be smart to read his blog. His information is extremely important.

Authors signed these contracts in the past and worked with the Big Six because they really had no choice. They do now. And it is very important that authors have all the information so they can make informed choices. Writers need to be informed!!!!

So, I hope that addressed what you were saying, Lisa!

Anonymous said...

More likely is the corporate publishing house which has a chip on the shoulder, not authors.

But the groveling sycophants on this blog who bring "kiss ass" to new altitudes will hate my comment.

Truth is: Nathan's views about self-published authors are irrelevant. Who is he to chastise independent authors?

Yeah, he's all for self publishing ...yeah right, give me a break.

He whines about one's chip on the shoulder when he has a log on his own, as evidenced by this condescending post.

Now go back to publishing corporate crap like "Marley and Me" and "Eat, Pray, Love" and leave independent authors alone.

Shevi said...

Anon from 7:33AM, Nathan's post doesn't chastise indie authors, nor is it condescending. He's giving helpful advice, and apparently you know it's helpful. Otherwise, you wouldn't have posted the above rant anonymously.

This is exactly what Nathan was blogging about, that you should be careful what image you project online.

Heck, it doesn't matter if you're indie published or not or even if you're a writer.

I was recently telling my daughter that a future employer might some day look her up on Google. Does she want that employer to see she made rants like yours above? I don't think so.

We'd all be smart to project the right image online, one that might not turn around and bite us in the ass somewhere down the line.

So if you really believed that Nathan is wrong and writers should write any kind of nonsense online without any care as to how it might affect their careers later on, you would have put your name to your words. The fact that you didn't shows you know Nathan is right.

stacy said...

I have mixed feelings about all of this. While I love that self-publishing offers another route for authors in the same way that I love how Kickstarter allows filmmakers and other artists to get funding and eliminate the middleman, I would probably still go with traditional publishing, just like I would probably pitch to Hollywood rather than make an independent film.

Really, I think it boils down to what advantages you want and what disadvantages you're willing to live with.

Nathan Bransford said...


Of course there are people who have had bad experiences, and of course people should know what they sign. I still disagree with what you're saying.

Reserve against returns are a customary practice, and they are accounted for on royalty statements. Yes, sometimes disreputable publishers take advantage of this. By and large this system works.

The standard publishing clauses Konrath tackles are standard. A publisher is investing in publishing your book in exchange for certain rights. Publishers are investing money and risk while there is no risk to you. There's a tradeoff that happens there.

Sometimes rights situations are ambiguous and yes, sometimes publishers make rights grabs in those situations. That's why it's important for authors to have effective representation. It's ultimately an authors' responsibility to fight for their own rights. Contracts are legal documents and if an author is in the right they will prevail. Authors are responsible for knowing what they sign. Those aren't criminal activities.

As for the DOJ lawsuit, while I disagreed with the agency model, most agents and the Authors' Guild supported the publishers' actions. That's evidence that publishers are trying to stick it to authors? How?

Just because some bad things happen to some people doesn't mean the entire enterprise is flawed. Some people get hit by cars, it doesn't mean you shouldn't enter a crosswalk.

Look, I have my frustrations with publishers and I've expressed them on this blog. But I'm really surprised at your beliefs. Authors do now have a choice and some are still choosing traditional publishing. Yeah, Kornath has done well self-publishing, but let's keep that in perspective - even the very top self-published authors aren't anywhere approaching the ballpark of the Pattersons, Kings, Meyers, Collinses of the world. Are those authors just hoodwinked too?

Maya said...

Wow, such heated debate.

I think Mira goes a little far in using the phrase "publishers steal" in the sense they do this all the time. There are cases where their contracts are unfair but there are also cases where they are fair.

However, I have to disagree when Nathan says, ""But I trust all authors to decide what's best for their own career, whether that's traditional publishing or self-publishing."

Authors are not contract lawyers and newbie authors especially are not familiar with publishing contract lingo. Therefore, they rely heavily on agents to get them a fair deal. Many agents fail to do so. Trivializing the complexity of contracts is completely one-sided (for publishers) in my opinion. Standardized contracts or better information on what those clauses mean are vital. Konrath is spreading that important information, so whether you like his tone or not, he is doing writers a great service.

Maya said...

Another thought: just because something is "standard" does not mean it is fair. Let's take the example of reversion of rights. In the past, it worked out because stores would not continue to print books that weren't selling well. Now with ebooks, authors might never get their rights back for out of print books. So what was standard is no longer fair because of a loophole.

Nathan Bransford said...


But ultimately it's up to authors to understand what they're signing and what's customary, whether they have an agent or not. I really truly believe authors must take responsibility for their own careers and that includes finding out what's customary and what's not, agent or no. I totally agree it's important to spread information about what contract clauses mean.

Mira said...

Nathan - sorry for the delay in my response. Work is crazy today.

Well, here's what I think I see in reading your response. We somewhat agree about the data and disagree about the conclusion. I think that's right, please let me know if doesn't fit for you.

Examples where I think we agree:

You say disreputable publishers can take advantage of returns. That publishers can make rights grabs in some situations. You acknowledge the DOJ lawsuit.

But your conclusion is: "Just because some bad things happen doesn't mean the system is entire enterprise is flawed."

Okay, fair enough. This is where we disagree.

You support the current system and think it works overall, but might like to make some changes.

I do not support the current system and think it is broken, and would like a major overhaul.

Where we do agree is that people can make the best decisions for themselves and it's very important they be given all of the relevant information in order to do so.

You know, part of the issue with the current debate is that people really do sincerely see things differently.

So, that's how I would sum our argument.

(I want to add something. I debated going line by line with you about the content, but....well, I still will, if you want. I don't want you to feel as though I'm dodging the issues, I just wasn't sure it would go anywhere other than making us mad at each other, and I don't want that. Sorry it's probably driving you nuts I keep making this personal, but it's hard for me to be at odds with you, it just is, so there you go).

stacy said...

Totally agree about the tone, Nathan. Authors these days sell themselves as much as they sell their books. So much of that is about radiating goodwill and being the kind of person people want to buy from. I know there are writers I have no interest in reading because what I've seen of their personalities turns me off. I don't much care whether they're published by one of the Big Six or self-published.

Maya said...

Personally, I think if we can't rely on agents to negotiate good contracts and point out gotchas in the legalese, there is a lot less reason to have one. I for one have a whole new list of questions I plan to ask an agent before signing with one. And yes, self-publishing is the alternative all authors have in their back pocket. If a writer brings these things up when an agent wants to represent them, does that mean the writer has "a chip on her shoulder"?

Suzanne Anderson said...

Hi Nathan,

I've had exactly the opposite experience....I've met traditionally published authors who act as if THEY have a chip on their shoulder, or look down on, those of us who've indie-published. I met one soon to be published author who has a blog where she regularly interviews fellow authors....but has a standing policy not to do interviews with indie-authors.

I'm getting my second book ready for publication and absolutely love the self-publishing experience. Yes, it may be more difficult than having a publishing house behind me, but I also think it also presents wonderful opportunities.

Instead of waiting for an agent to pick my book, and then in turn sell it to a publishing house, and to see if they choose to put marketing muscle behind it or just let it linger, I get to publish my book as soon as it's ready.

Yes I am solely responsible for the marketing but guess what? my local bookstore is now carrying my first book! How awesome is that?!

rebecca koo said...

Great post! Thank you so much. Well said without being a rant and with a great balance which makes your points all the more digestible! As a beginner muddling through this changing industry, I found this incredibly helpful.

Other Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Other Lisa said...

Er, Take 2!

Look, I probably rail on about the evils of corporate oligarchy as much as anyone out there. More, even!

But telling me that I am naive, that I only deal with nice people and not the evil-doers at the top who are exploiting authors, I'm not sure how to respond other than to say, I am a person with some actual experience inside this system. Maybe that should count for something? And if my experiences aren't relevant, how about Nathan's? Or the many other authors with whom I've discussed the business?

As Nathan said, the Authors Guild, that organization dedicated to exploiting authors everywhere, came out against the DoJ lawsuit. There are some good reasons for that.

I'll also echo what Nathan said here: authors need to understand their business, the contracts they sign and the implications for their careers. That won't protect you against out and out malfeasance, but it will help you make better decisions for your particular circumstances.

JDuncan said...

Boy, wish I'd read through this sooner. This debate is always so interesting and at times entertaining.

I'm still one of those who sees pros and cons on both sides of this fence. That may and probably will change over the course of time as the industry works through all of this turmoil.

Personally, I like being able to turn over my book to professionals who know what they're doing with regard to publishing, marketing, and distributing my work. When it works well (for some it does and others it does not) I believe traditional publishing is a good thing. You are being asked to sacrifice of lot of the income for services rendered. Is it too much to ask? Yeah, I'd say it probably is. Authors deserve fairer slice of the pie. What is actually fair is open to debate, but I'd say it's more than the sub-10% we get now.

Are these disadvantageous agreements stealing? I suppose that might be semantics, but steeping contracts in legalese such that it's difficult to decipher some elements unless you hire a lawyer is nice way to obfuscate the truth of the terms of the contract. It's certainly not illegal, and one can say that it is the problem of the author and/or agent to decipher the contractual terms so that one understands exactly what one is getting into, which is true as far as that goes, but you can bet that publishers had lawyers working on their side to blur the lines of understanding as it were.

Why publishers can't have an attachment to contracts that puts all of the terms in plain english is beyond me. Transparency is a good thing, and legal contracts are anything but.

That said, it's not a secret that authors don't get much of a return. We've worked in an industry that until the past few years left us no option. True, we could say no, but that meant not publishing. We now have another option, and it's going to behoove publishers to step up to the plate a bit here or the pool of talent is going to shift to self-publishing.

The biggest thing pubs have going for them is store distribution, promo, and getting that manuscript into book form. They don't always do this well, but when they do it's worth a lot. Doing it on your own takes a lot of work, time, and investment to do well. To many writers think they have what it takes to do it right and they don't. Personally, I can't afford to do what I would want to do. Not yet. When and if I can, I'll probably give it a go.

Meanwhile, the "chippers" as it were, while kind of annoying, are providing the benefit of making this argument loud enough for a lot of people to hear. This is a good thing. It needs to be heard. We don't need to be pointing fingers at writers who don't want to leave tradtional or laughing at those who try to self publish. We need to continue to positively voice the fact that we deserve fair compensation. Both publishing avenues are worthwhile in their own way, both have drawbacks, but when it comes to fairness, it's hard to argue the fact that it isn't an issue when you're doing it all yourself. This is appealing to a lot of people, myself included.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Deleted my last comment. I've said enough on this thread.

Thanks for giving a space for debate around difficult topics, Nathan.

Shevi said...

It's a shame Mira deleted her previous comment, because I thought this was relevant to the conversation: "In addition, self publishers are not eligible for membership in the [Authors] Guild. Nor are unpublished writers, or many small press published writers."

If every member of the Authors Guild has worked tirelessly to get published and is indebted to his or her publisher, how could the members of the Authors Guild do anything but support their publishers, right or wrong? How many people would support the other side in a lawsuit against the company they work for? Not many, which makes the Authors Guild support of the big six and Apple against Amazon irrelevant. You don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Shevi said...

I thought some people here might be interested in my side-by-side comparison of traditional versus indie publishing. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages:

Ellen said...

Once again you've put words to something many of us have noticed without fully realizing it. Your acuteness is sorely needed as we attempt to navigate the insanity of this rapidly changing field.

Nathan Bransford said...


I think it's definitely open for debate whether the Authors Guild should open its doors, but published authors were also the only ones with a dog in that particular fight. I do think they were acting according to their view of authors' interest.

Shevi said...

I buy a lot of books. I'd like to pay less for them. Amazon wants to charge me less for them, while at the same time giving publishers exactly the same profit. That's good for me, because, as I said, I'd rather pay less for books. Lower prices make me more inclined to buy lots of them. Higher prices make me disinclined to buy them at all.

It's true that I don't have a dog in this race (what's with the cliches?) as an indie author, because either way I still make a 70% royalty rate on the books I sell through Amazon, the Apple iBookstore, BN, Google Play, and pretty much everywhere else I sell e-books. Even though Google Play sells my books for less than anyone else, they still give me the exact same 70% of the retail price I set. But I do have a dog in this race as a consumer who buys a lot of books.

And I have to admit it does break my heart a little when I see my traditionally published colleagues making only 15% instead of 70% on e-book sales that are paltry because no one wants to buy e-books that cost $15 or more. It broke my heart even more when I learned from Kristine Rusch's blog that they're not even getting that:

Look at it this way: the only time I have bought a Kindle book from one of the big six publishers was when it was on sale. I have never paid more than $4.99 for any e-book. So when Amazon lowers the prices on their e-books, the big six publishers are making a sale they wouldn't have made otherwise. That's good for everyone, isn't it?

I'm willing to bet that the large majority of Kindle owners are like me. We're loading our Kindles with books that cost less than $9.99--the maximum that Amazon wants to charge--and buying few if any books over that amount. The DOJ verdict wasn't just in favor of Amazon. It was in favor of anyone who buys books or who has a vested interest in consumers buying books.

Nathan Bransford said...


Right, but the interests of readers and authors aren't always aligned. Readers want books for free, authors want them to pay for them. That's not quite what we were discussing with the DOJ lawsuit. The idea presented was that the Authors Guild wasn't acting in (traditionally published) authors' interests. I'm not sure I agree with their stance, but I do believe they were acting in good faith on behalf of authors.

Shevi said...

Oh, I'm sure they were acting in good faith. I don't agree with their conclusions, but I'm sure they thought what they were doing was in the best interest of the writers they represent.

And while it might be possible that not everything that's good for readers is good for writers, in this particular case, I think our interests are the same. As I pointed out, high prices mean few or no books sold; while reasonable prices mean lots of books sold. That's good for both readers and writers.

And since you brought the issue of free books up, you do know that Neil Gaiman disagrees with you on that, right? It's a mistaken assumption to think that free books are bad for authors.

Anonymous said...

For those citing the Authors Guild as evidence that the DOJ is wrong, it should be noted that many authors now consider the Authors Guild little more than a shill for legacy publishing and want nothing to do with that organization. It used to be that legacy publishers always offered the best deals to writers, so when the Authors Guild reminded writers to avoid small publishing houses, they really did have the best interest of writers in mind. Now, it seems that the Authors Guild is so used to being kept in business by traditional publishers and literary agents and the entire big publishing world, it makes statements that suggest it knows almost nothing at all about the modern world of indie and self publishing. The Authors Guild has recently gone on such extreme rants against self-publishing, it puts any extreme self-publishing author rant to shame.

Rolando Garcia said...

If you want to understand why many writers have a "chip on their shoulder" when it comes to this matter read this post:

Marilyn Peake said...

Shevi - Kristine Kathryn Rusch is awesome!

For anyone who isn't aware of her blog on the modern publishing world and the business side of writing, it's an invaluable place to learn about changes in publishing and to find out about questionable publishing practices as they arise: The Business Rusch. She is one of the rare highly successful authors published by the big publishing houses who dares to speak out against them. She's also broken records in awards she's received, which includes being the only person to ever win a Hugo Award for both editing and writing. Here's her Bio: Biography of Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, also a successful writer, is much more extreme, perhaps more similar to Joe Konrath in his views. I looked up his website just now to post a link to it, and discovered that his post today is titled: Holy Smokes, Batman. I Agree With Nathan Bransford. HaHaHa. Timely. :)

C. Issy said...

This was a great post. I wish I had it a few weeks ago, when I (very gently)tweeted back at a self-pubber whose promotional tweet basically spewed vitriol about trad publishers. I reminded her that, as a reader, that sort of promotion turns me off from ever purchasing a book and that she should tell me why I'd love her book, instead of bashing others. Sadly, I don't think she listened-- but I do hope that she finds this post.

Phil Simon said...

It's not just about publishing. Doing anything creative is inherently frustrating. Art, music, acting, writing, and all creative endeavors mean that you're putting yourself out there--and the audience probably isn't as big or vociferous as you think it should be.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this blog and this particular post as I had the most frustrating week this last one. I had only posted once about such frustrations thank god, but now I know that I need to keep my fingers to myself. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

What's that I hear?

Sounds like a dinosaur dying.

Lynda said...

You know, sometimes self-publishing is about building confidence. Especially, in my case, because I was learning my craft and sent it out to publishers and agents way too early and burnt all the bridges. But, it was a story that improved and there were friends, family and beyond that wanted to read it. So, I self-published. Now, I have the confidence to interact in writing organisations and tackle another story that WILL be written properly. It's just a pity that many in the industry seem so derogatory towards all self-published without giving some of it a chance. No chip here, just a little disappointed at the attitudes from the other side of the coin, especially the ridicule. Very sad.

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