The Princess and the Dragon of Publishing

“The Princess and the Dragon of Publishing”

writing processOnce upon a time there was a writer (really she was a princess) and she created characters and divided the light from the darkness, the good from the evil, and she looked at it and said, “This is good.”

But, her Beta-Readers said, “Not so much.”

And the princess revised and said, “Let there be magical agents and publishing contracts and oodles of green money!”

But, the agents said, “I wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.”

Now the Writer Princess had a decision to make. Should she self-publish, submit to editors, start again, or quit?

Before we get into this I should tell you that I am a traditional kind of gal. I believe in children and family and happy endings. I think Bruce Willis should be forever young and blowing up stuff on the Silver Screen and that all men should be Spiderman down deep inside. That said I also love audio books on long drives and the magical poof of a digital book appearing on my reader-because it’s way cool, right?

But really, the question is not Traditional Publishing versus Digital or the Wicked Queen plotting against the Beautiful Princess. The big publishers have embraced the digital age. Agents work their collective behinds off to keep up on each innovation and trend. The big question is: Does she want a happy ending?

I can tell you from my own experience that earning an agent’s representation is glorious. Good agents have spent years and countless hours learning the business and establishing sterling reputations. They keep up with the thousands of things that a serious writer simply has no time for. They have a mysterious ability to take what you write and to see where your manuscript will fit in this confusing whirlwind of modern publishing.

Princess, I have nothing against self-publishing and if you’re impatient, honestly, it may be what you need. Because even with computers and super-fast email, traditional publishing still depends on eyes to read and brains to think. Unfortunately, technology hasn’t developed a way for these to work faster. The only difference I can see between self-published authors and traditional ones is the ability to wait for months and even years.

However, if you self-publish, you need a lot more than the ability to write. I’m not saying it can’t be done, oh, no. But, you can’t self-publish for free and your writing time goes out the window when you make the switch from writer to marketer. From the information I can gather, it seems that the average book sell numbers for a self-published author are around 150-200 copies (unless you have an excellent, well-edited book and oodles of time and money to publicize it). In my humble opinion, 200 copies aren’t worth the effort. If you can’t put yourself out there and promote like a pro (and pay for the promotional costs) maybe another way would be better.

The princess might submit to editors but, if she’s lucky enough to be found in the slush pile, how will she understand the contract she signs? Will she have the necessary contract negotiation skills? I asked Deidre Knight, President of The Knight Agency, to name just a few monsters that could hide in a publishing contract waiting to eat our princess:

One of an agent’s many contractual tasks is to make sure that your option clause doesn’t prevent you from taking on additional projects-or that it prevents you from offering a project elsewhere if the publisher passes (to name just two elements that arise with this clause). An agent also inspects the non-compete clause, so it doesn’t bog down your ability to publish with other houses, create sequels and prequels or even go self-publish as you’d like. Not to mention reversion clauses! Do you really want that publisher to own your rights forever and always, even if they’re only selling 15 copies a year? What if the publisher declares bankruptcy-how do you reclaim your rights? If someone uploads your book as fan fiction over on some Harry Pottery site, how do you and the publisher proceed?”

Princess, when you pour your heart, mind, and energy into your book you deserve more than worries and a learning curve the size of Mount Rushmore. You need a knight.

Her third option would be to start again with a new book, query, and this time find an agent. Think about it Princess, a shiny new storyline, new characters to discover, and a plotline full of adventures. But now you know more, your writing is cleaner and your descriptions sharp. You have more tools in your writing toolbox. This time you understand how to plant the seeds of the ending at the start of the book and a million other things you learned along the way.

We’ve all read authors who started out good, progressed to great, and are now keeping us awake all night to finish their new books. I’d bet green money that they all have a manuscript (or six, or eight) under the bed that will never see the light of day. Writers write. Agents sell. Publishers publish. Tuck your manuscript somewhere safe. Print off the rejection letters, put them in a file, and start again.

Work, patience, and a hard head with an open mind will get you where you want to go. Anyone can, with effort, live the fairy tale.

Or, you can quit-but you won’t be a princess anymore.

Written By Julie Butcher-Fedynich

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The Princess and the Dragon of Publishing
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The Princess and the Dragon of Publishing
The Princess and the Dragon of Publishing. Once upon a time there was a writer (really she was a princess) and she created characters and divided the light from the darkness, the good from the evil, and she looked at it and said, “This is good.”
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Julie Butcher Fedynich
Buzzy Mag Columnist & Pundit. Julie Butcher lives with her husband and six children on the fringes of Utter Chaos. She is the sister of #1 USA Today and NYT bestselling author, Jim Butcher. She adores puppies, kittens, and thinks world peace would be awesome as long as stuff still blows up in the movies.
  • Marcia Reese

    Wish I had read this 10 years ago. Almost all writers need to do a bit of self promotion but the common sense advice of writers writing somehow gets lost in all the “get published now” promoters-Places that P/N. Elrod has been warning about for years who care how much money they can make from authors not how they can nuture talent.

  • Reesa

    Good advice!

  • I love the way you approach these things, Julie. Now if we only had a spell to make the wait seem shorter. 🙂

  • Nicely done 🙂 I think a lot of people think self publishing is going to be a magic bullet and don’t realise just how much work is involved. These days writers can definitely find success self publishing but they have to bear in mins the the “self” part means they become (and/or pay for) agent/editor/designer/marketer and accountant.

    I’d hate to see agents regarded as unnecisary by writers, because they can be a huge help, even to self published authors (Czech Republic wants to publish your book? You might want someone on your team that knows foreign rights).

  • Very nice!

    I also wanted to chip in that submitting to editors doesn’t mean going without an agent. If you get an offer from an editor, it becomes a lot easier to get an agent. I can think of a few authors who did this — most of them met an editor at a conference and things went from there.

  • Hi Julie!

    I love the light tone of the article even as it imparted serious information.

    Thank you for sharing,
    RK Charron

  • what a wonderful article, it is filled with lots of tid-bits of info worth sharing. Editing is hard work and marketing is even harder, when an author tries to do it all somethings gotta give. I hope that your message spreads far and wide! BtW – nice that you included the mention of beta-readers. I cannot stress how important they are. I love my beta-team and I love the beta-teams that I am a part of.

    QtR – Theresa Bane

  • Actually, Denise is accurate is everything she said, because I have been watching and following her journey throughout her decision to self-publish. And for the record, you were right in your estimations except for one — your estimation of the amount of money that one book of hers generated was slightly low. And yes, it is over 32K actual books or ebooks sold, and keep in mind that was just one of her books.

    A lawyer looking over a contract shouldn’t cost more than $500 and a final edit (after the author and a team of excellent beta readers go through it) runs in the $300 area, but you can also hire a developmental editor as well. Their fee depends on the length of the ms but are helpful to make sure your novel is well-rounded and the plot and pace are the best it can be.

    The real trick to self-pubbing is to have an excellent support team — editors who are behind you and your work, other writers who believe in your work, and more than one title available. Denise had four books she shined and polished and released within a few months of each other. The popularity of one generated interest in the others.

    So it can be done by a regular person and it’s a pretty fantastic journey if you should choose to go that way for whatever reason.

  • For what it’s worth–

    I’ve sold 25,322 copies of my debut self-published title, and earned $48,532.19 in royalties in 6 months. This is on one book, in six months. So yes, I will happily sell my book for $2.99 and generate almost $50,000 dollars in six months—vs—selling the title to a traditional house for a $5,000-$25,000 advance and never seeing another penny in royalties because my publisher is charging $9.59 and readers won’t pay that for a debut author. And yes, this is happening right now to a friend of mine.

    I didn’t self-publish because I didn’t want to wait, I self-published because I have multi-award winning and agented CPs and Beta readers and acquaintances and none of them are making any money through their traditional contracts. I self-published because I discovered Kris Rusch’s Industry blog The Business Rusch and read thousands of comments from other mid-list and debut authors who weren’t making money either. I self-published because I did my homework and I did my research and I realized I had a better chance of earning a living by self-publishing my work. So I self published, and four months later I was able to quit my day job to write full time. None of my traditionally published CPs or Beta readers or even acquaintances have been able to do that.

    My book cost $878.00 dollars to produce. The cover cost $105.00, The copy editing cost $600.00. The proof editing cost $138 and the formatting costs $35. Least you think the low production cost equals low quality…my cover is getting rave reviews. So is the book’s editing. In fact, it’s currently the top rated romantic suspense on Amazon with a 4.6 rating and 304+ reviews and it’s been beating every single traditionally published title released since October. And no, not one of these reviews is from a friend or CP. They are all reader reviews.

    Before pulling this book from agents to self-publish, I had a couple of top agents give me feedback on the book and guess what? Every single thing they told me to change, is what the readers love. Seriously, every single element they said had to be “Fixed” is why the readers are raving about it and recommending it to other readers. If I had done as they suggested, I would have gutted the very elements that are selling the book now. So no- I don’t agree at all that agent know what readers want. They may know what will sell to editors, but they have no clue what will sell to readers. And the readers are the ones who matter.

    I’m sure some of you thinking- yeah, but she’s an anomaly. No. I am not. I personally know seven previously unpublished people who will make between $50,000 and $200,000 dollars on just one of their self-published titles this year. The funny thing is I have a lot more traditionally published author friends than self-published ones and among those friends I don’t know anyone who is making over 25K a year. Sure there are thousands of self-publishing authors who aren’t making much of anything. But there are tens of thousands who aren’t selling to NY either. So INMHO it’s just as silly to say that self-publishing isn’t worth it because the average book only sells 200 copies a year as it is to say trying for a NY contract isn’t worth it because only 1 out 25K people will sell there.

    The books that would have sold to NY will do well in self-publishing and they will make their authors a hell of a lot more money than a traditional contract would. The books that wouldn’t have sold to NY, likely won’t do well in self-publishing either, those are the books that are selling 200 copies a year.

    As for the comment that you can’t find a reputable contract attorney to analyze and negotiate a contract for a flat fee of $500. I can tell you for a fact that David Vandagriff of the Passive Voice blog, one of the leading contract attorney’s in our industry, does contract analysis for a flat fee of 500.00. He will negotiate the contract clauses for an additional $500.00. He just finished analyzing and negotiating a four books deal with Montlake Publishing for me. Montlake is the ONLY publisher I would ever consider signing with, at least as of now, because they are the only house capable of making me more money than I could make on my own. Traditional publishers are NOT digitally savvy. Their digital practices are driving their authors to the poor house. The fact this comment was even made is proof this post was not researched in the slightest.

    Every author needs to choose their own path to publication, but they also need to open their eyes and research. Investigate. To base your publishing choice on false assumptions and false information is not just the sign of an unprofessional, but it’s also the sign of someone who won’t get far in this new age and our turbulent industry.

    Anyone who is seriously pursuing a career in publishing should be reading The Business Rusch. If you aren’t, you are insulated and have none of the knowledge you need to choose your publishing path.

    • Reesa

      That’s a really interesting rebuttal and I, for one, am glad to see a bit of both sides of the picture. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • Jenny D.

    It’s my understanding that only the “top tier” authors actually seen enough money to make a living, even fewer still in the Stephen King range.

    That both agented and unagented authors have to put in crazy hours promoting themselves.

    If you are able to get a great agent, they will have a better chance of getting your work shown to a publishing house.

    Interesting debate, I am not an author but am glad now with self-publishing I can read works that have not been “traditionally” published and am delighted that there are authors who are courageous enough to go out there and make their works available. The cream does rise to the top, I pay attention to reviews, if something is good enough it will catch on.

    Good Luck to all of you & most of all please KEEP WRITING…I’m a gal who loves to read.