Are all ‘authors’ created equal? A quick look at the evidence says “No”.
Over the past few years the lines have been shifting, and with the advent of self-publishing options, with it getting harder and harder to get a publishing contract (particularly for fiction) organizations have responded by asking pertinent questions about how to define an author.
The MWA recently made changes to their ‘approved publisher’ list, and this has resulted in criticism and argument amongst some.
I got thinking about it a bit more, looking at the new Barnes & Noble Crime Fiction Club, where registered participants are labeled under categories.
There have been other fights this year, such as the brouhaha over Simon & Schuster’s contract changes a few months ago, and the ensuing argument over the contract amendments.
What if an author gets to the point where their work is only available in POD format? If their membership to an organization lapsed, and they went to renew, would they be considered an author or an associate? The problem is, there are so many gray areas to address, the risk is that the rules will be rendered pointless IF loopholes are created or exploited that allow for double standards.
Meanwhile, a recent decision by an author to self publish their backlist is not meeting with the usual criticism dished out against self-published authors by some.
Does this send a mixed message to authors currently considering self-publishing? Perhaps.
One of the problems is that we try to operate in black and white when the world is varying shades of gray. Archer Mayor is not the first author to undertake a publishing enterprise to keep his backlist alive. However, I’m left wondering about decisions of authors to self-publish their backlists when other legitimate publishers will consider reprinting works. Good idea or bad? Many will be watching to see how well Mr. Mayor does before reaching a verdict.
All of that is somewhat secondary. Here are the simple facts. If you choose to start off self-published, you’ll be ostracized within the crime fiction community. In most countries, most writer organizations will not consider you an author. They will not consider your work for awards… but you will be ‘published’ in the sense that you are no longer eligible for consideration as a debut author by award status, and can’t enter competitions for unpublished writers. And reviews? Forget about it.
If you choose a small publisher that is not on the approved publisher list for various organizations, you will also have a difficult time. It’s harder to get bookstores to carry your work. It’s harder to get reviews. Every aspect of your career will be a challenge, because super-small publishers don’t have the distribution of the big guys, and they don’t have the marketing budgets. That doesn’t mean that you can’t consider that avenue. It just means that if you do, you have to understand that the deck is stacked against you.
For all the talk about it being about the writing, reality is, it’s as much about who publishes your work as anything else. Hey, if you want to be considered for an Edgar Award, know the list of MWA approved publishers and don’t settle for anyone else. It’s that simple.
Why am I posting this? It isn’t a criticism against the new rules. What it is is a reality check. On a regular basis I receive e-mails from people, asking me to refer them to an agent, to recommend them to my publisher, to suggest a publisher for their work, if they can get their self-published book reviewed, for advice about how to get published… etc. etc. etc.
Here’s my wake-up call to the aspiring authors out there. A lot of people won’t consider me a ‘real’ author until my book with Dorchester comes out next May. And if you think it’s easy, think again. I made my own specific decisions, for specific reasons. Would I recommend the same course of action to others?
It is true that many good books are overlooked by the conventional publishers. MJ Rose started off self-published. However, before you use that justification to do likewise, you need to consider why she did it, how she did it, and ask if you’re in a position where you absolutely have to.
Simply put, many writers are starving for affirmation about their craft. They want to get an acceptance letter so that they can say to themselves (and everyone else) that they’re a real writer. Come on, it’s partially about validation. Otherwise, we’d never try to get published and just write for ourselves, not go through the criticism and angst.
a) written a full manuscript
b) tried dozens and dozens of agents without getting any requests for full manuscripts
c) taken a course/attended workshops with editors/publishers on how to shop your work and get published
d) written a second manuscript and queried again and again and again, still with no success
I personally don’t think you should consider self publishing. Now, I know there are good books that get self published, but they are so few and far between that most reviewers have strict rules about not reviewing them.
What do I say about the small press option? Well, you just never know. I know others who started off with brand new publishers the same time I did, and we talked about the roll of the dice. With some, it turned out devastating. With others, it turned out well. And for some of us it was somewhere between the two.
I’m not a published author… at least, not by the standards some groups set. Did I pay to be self-published? No. Did my manuscript go through a review process before an offer of publication was made? Yes. Is every manuscript submitted to the publisher in question offered publication? No. Is it fair? Well...
My advice? Try anything else under the sun first. Impatient? Get over yourself. This is a slow business, and until you get in there and have a regular editor/publisher at an established house it takes a while to jump through the hurdles and see your work in print.
If there’s no other way, then there’s a different discussion to have. But when people e-mail me and say they haven’t finished their manuscript, but are already querying and have had ten rejection letters so they’re going to self publish, I want to smack them.
Instead, I’m posting this, as a bit of a caution. Consider every hope and dream you have for your debut, and what it is you really want. If you say it’s just to see your name on the cover of a book, you’re probably deluding yourself. (Okay, if you have a terminal illness, I understand. But if not, you’re kidding yourself.) You don’t just want to have a book with your name on it, you want it to be read, and you want it to be enjoyed. You want people to validate your work and what you’ve poured your heart into.
Don’t settle lightly. Think carefully about what it is you want. If you don’t, you may find yourself facing a lot of heartache on the other side of a bad decision. What do I think about my own choices? It doesn’t matter. I know why I made them. I also know where I’m at now. But my reasons aren’t yours, and my outcome isn’t yours either. For the odd story (like MJ Rose’s) where clearly the publishers were wrong, at least 99 times they’re right when they send out a rejection.
How do I know that? I read short story submissions.
Whatever you do, do it with your eyes wide open.