Friday, June 06, 2014

I Understand and Sympathize

So I fell into the trap of becoming too involved in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, and I've been openly wondering where all the stupid is coming from, and if I could somehow cork the stupid so it stopped splashing all over the Internet.

Whenever I recognize I'm grinding an ax, I try to take a step back and walk a mile in the other person's moccasins to gain some perspective. I did, and it chilled me out. Because I remember walking that same path, years ago.

I've been preaching since 2010 that self-publishing is not only a viable alternative to the legacy industry, but it can indeed be a preferable one. I'll do a quick recap.

1. You own your rights, rather than a publisher owning them for your lifetime plus seventy years.

2. You can control your cover art and product description.

3. You can set your own price, and change it almost instantly.

4. You don't have to deal with unconscionable contract terms like non-compete clauses.

5. You can get your work to readers faster, and you have the same reach (perhaps even more reach) as publishers do when it comes to digital distribution.

6. You get 70% of list rather than 12.5%.

7. You can run you own ads on places like BookBub and Booksense because you can put your work on sale.

Any writer looking at these advantages has got to be thinking, "That's pretty sweet."

But not every writer looking at these advantages can actually take advantage of them.

If you're locked into a legacy contract, you can't self-pub any of your books. You either owe them your next book, or aren't allowed to release any on your own. Or maybe you're a slower writer and can only write a book a year.

You can see the high prices your publisher is selling your ebooks for, and you are powerless to do anything about it.

If you get a bad cover, you're stuck with it.

If you get poor distribution, you're stuck with it.

And if you complain, you're shitting where you eat and your publisher won't be happy, and they can hurt your career.

If you're like the majority of legacy authors, your backlist hasn't earned out. You aren't getting paid any more on those old titles. And it may take a long time for them to start making you more money. Or maybe you are making a measly amount of money with them. And to make matters worse, you're only paid twice a year, 9 months or more after the sales period ends.

Then Konrath comes by and says, "Self-publish! What are you, a pinhead?"

You know you're not a pinhead. But you believe you can't self-publish.

No wonder you're angry. No wonder you can't stand me. No wonder you hate Amazon.

You played by the rules. You thought you'd be okay. And now you're trapped, and you feel like there is no way out.

I know this feeling. I felt the same way. It sucks.

But here's what I did.

I bought out two of my contracts, returning the advance. I did this even though I couldn't afford it, and it was a huge risk. I did this before we had all of this data that shows self-publishing is viable.

I took a big risk. It was scary. I was giving away guaranteed money on the hope I could make more on DTP (this was before it was called KDP, and before you could publish on Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, or iTunes).

Then I turned down a legacy deal and let Amazon publish Shaken with Amazon Encore (this was before Thomas & Mercer). I was the first author to turn down a deal and give Amazon a shot.

I took a big risk. It was scary.

Then I hired lawyers to get my legacy rights back.

I took a big risk. It was scary.

I know what it's like to feel helpless, and stuck. I know what it's like living advance check to advance check.

I took some really big risks to free me from the legacy system, which I no longer believed it. Then I put all my faith in a new, untested self-publishing system, with only a few months of anecdotal data to support me.

It paid off for me. But it took a lot of soul searching, a lot of analyzing data, and a big leap of faith.

All of you legacy authors who hate me; I know you played by the rules, and are angry that your sales are diminishing, and that your advances are shrinking. I played by the rules, too. I did more signings than any of you--over 1200. I busted my ass to make my legacy career work. And I took a chance on self-publishing, and was lucky that it paid off.

I can see why you don't want to take a chance. Or why you feel you don't even have a choice. You worked within the system, got the keys to the kingdom, and it was supposed to be smooth sailing for you. Then, somehow, the rules changed, and you got screwed.

I get it. I really do.

But your answer isn't hoping for the old system to return. It isn't going to.

Your answer isn't blaming Amazon for your problems. They are here to stay.

Your answer isn't blaming me, or other indie authors, or the self-publishing revolution. We're not trying to rub your nose in our success. We're trying to help you to share the wealth.

Since I took those chances, many other authors have too. Some were legacy veterans. Some were newbies.

For every single one of them, it was scary. There was fear, uncertainty, sleepless nights, and second-guessing.

Many felt trapped by their publishers and contracts. That they needed their next advance to survive.

I know. I felt the same way. I've spoken with dozens of authors privately. I haven't told any of them, "Self-pub! It's the best way!" I've told them they need to choose what's best for them in order to reach their goals, tried to help them figure out the potential benefits and risks, and said that ultimately luck plays a huge part.

I'm not an advocate of self-publishing because I know better than anyone else. I'm an advocate of self-publishing because I've been on both sides of that fence, and my experience isn't unique. Many authors got screwed by the legacy system like I did. Many authors have benefited from self-publishing like I have.

Maybe this Hachette/Amazon dispute isn't bringing out the stupid in people. Maybe it is forcing authors to defend themselves, because they're scared. And when you're scared, you lash out without thinking. You defend yourself rather than consider new ideas. You find scapegoats. You rally with others who feel the same way because there is safety in numbers. You defend your oppressors. You fight the future because it's either that or risking everything.

But there is no reward without risk, and no change without outrage.

I was outraged by the legacy system. The unconscionable contracts. The low royalties. The indecipherable royalty statements. The bi-annual checks. The many mistakes my publishers made that hurt my sales. The unbearable waiting.

Amazon allowed me an opportunity to not only escape from that, but to thrive for the first time in my career. And I'm not the only one they've allowed that opportunity.

Authors need to stop thinking of Amazon as the bad guy, because they feel bad about the contracts they're stuck in.

Worrying Amazon is a monopoly that might someday lower royalties makes no sense, when the Big 5 already function as a monopoly and have low royalties.

The old ways aren't going to return. The new ways aren't going away.

But you don't have to be a victim. You don't have to succumb to learned helplessness. You don't have to defend your publishers. You don't even have to defend yourself.

Yes, you signed the contract. But that doesn't mean you're powerless. Or that you were wrong for signing it. The climate has changed, and as new data comes in, your outlook should change along with it. What was once a good deal (or the only deal in town) may not be a good deal anymore. Why should you be forced to live with that?

You can get out of your situation. But it will mean taking a risk. A chance. Turning down a deal. Returning an advance. Making more contract demands. Hiring a lawyer. Going it alone.

It's not easy. It's scary.

I know. I was there.

Amazon is giving you an opportunity to no longer be at the mercy of a publisher. Rather than be angry at that, maybe it's time to take a deep breath, analyze the situation, reset your goals, and take a chance.

There is no Us vs. Them. We're all writers. We all want the same thing. To make some money at our craft. To reach readers. To be treated fairly.

It will take courage and bravery to change your attitude. It will take luck to bring you success. And everyone's mileage varies.

Life isn't fair. No one owes us a living.

But as long as someone else controls your rights, you are allowing them to control your future.

If you're okay with that, fine. But then it is hypocritical to blame anyone other than yourself for your situation.

If you're not okay with that, figure out how to change it. It won't be easy. But you can do it.