If you’re in the publishing business, you’ll be unhappy with what follows. It’s meant to give you a good spanking for your bad behavior. This is about writers and their rights, freedoms and alternatives.
I‘ve been around the writing business too long. My memories of working with publishers are mostly good. But, these days, they’re also dingy, irrelevant artifacts. Publishing was never a perfect industry but, by today’s standards, it was at least a somewhat meaningful partnership. No more.
Astute writers are aware of the immense changes in publishing. The word is out there and has been floating around for years. But matters have become truly ugly, especially for young writers trying to make a mark with their words. Today, publishers are circling overhead, waiting for the kill, happy to parse out a tedious, stingy contract in exchange for the writer doing all the work. In reality, these are not publishers at all. They are opportunists who provide no added value, suck up profits, and dump the entire workload on the writer. They are predators and they’re everywhere.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the publisher was a work-partner, someone who actually provided added value for the writer. Well, forget that idea. It’s history. If you’re a writer, the best you can hope for is helper monkey status on a publisher’s relentless push toward greater profits. You are nothing more than an overworked, abused commodity to publishers.
Vulture publishers, magazines, anthologies and the like are preying upon a writer’s intense desire to see his or her work in print, or e-print. That’s the hook and the publisher has no problem setting it with a ruthless determination. Just to spice the stew, anyone can start a publishing company these days. It takes virtually no work, no experience and no skill. It’s a nice landscape for cannibalism, and guess who is the main course?
The few remaining large publishing houses are no better than the newcomers. They also demand that a writer do all the work while they suck up virtually all the profits using insidious and completely unfair contracts. This is their method of survival since the advent of e-publishing. These organizations, old and new, thrive on turning their writers into less-than-partner status who can provide all the publishing services they once provided. To settle the matter, they then put the writer into last place in any contact while they drink the profit cocktail fully.
Do writers even need publishers these days? Probably not, if they find another way to penetrate the reader market. There’s no reason for a writer to self-sacrifice in order to get his or her words out there. There are alternatives, many ways to get around publisher blood-letting.
Something that appeals to me is the idea of writing/publishing “pods.” It sounds a little strange, I know, but that’s because I’ve not given it the time to come up with a better description. Forget the alien context for a minute.
Let me give you an example.
Suppose there exists a small collection of writers. Let’s say 5 or 6 of them. Throw in a trusted editor. Now, add an individual who knows enough about the publishing business to act in that role. Also, someone strong in web design, social media, that kind of thing. In other words, marketing. So, all together, no more than 10 or so individuals. Call it a “pod” for lack of a better term.
Now, this pod has one goal in mind. Get those writers published and do it in a way that makes money. All contracts stay within the pod. The profits are shared on the basis of value, decided in advance by the members. The group writes, works, edits, markets and publishes for the common good. Each member has an equal voice; all important decisions are made democratically. Predators are not welcome.
OK, it sounds a bit idealistic, I admit. The pod would have to start small, with a tight group and inherent trust among members. But it could evolve. It could hold true to its common purpose and become a self-sustaining enterprise. It could, in fact, become much like the traditional, value-added publisher but in a far less predatory way. It could be an enterprise that re-writes the hackneyed rules of publishing and offers a more equitable way of doing the business of writing. If done correctly, members of a successful pod would have no need for publishers at all, no demands for writers to subjugate themselves to the publishing altar of greed. They would operate for the common good and, hopefully, prosper. Forget the top-down gorging on the work of others. Share the load, share the profits.
So, call me a dreamer. None of this will likely happen. Publishers will probably continue preying upon writers to the fullest extent possible. It’s a sad state for today’s young writers. And this idea may be completely unworkable for a number of reasons, mostly sociological. But the point is simple. There are alternatives to the hungry, self-absorbed publisher.
What I absolutely believe is that writers deserve much better treatment from publishers than they are receiving. Since it’s unlikely that publishers will simply do the right thing, it’s up to writers to step out in front and take charge of their careers. There is really no reason to become the slave of a publisher in the modern marketplace. They can be set aside, replaced by a different model, should those who really do the work choose a different way of following their art.
Whatever you may think about the publishing industry these days, don’t be too quick to sign that contract. It will likely be a very unhappy experience. Before you sign, consider the alternatives.