Monday, July 5, 2010

The Publishing Universe

Scientists tell us the universe is expanding. And that's especially true in the world of publishing. At the core of this expansion, there are well-known, ancient planets that have been governed forever by powerful agents, answering to editors at publishing companies. They are the leaders of the old world that has long been ruled by tradition and protocol, where everyone marches to the same drum beat. These are the entities that determine what will be published and what we will be allowed to read.

Many of the old publishing houses are still around. They will probably remain for a while longer, continuing to provide their services in their present capacity. In time, they will pass into history like buggy whips and vinyl recordings. Nothing lasts forever.

New worlds are evolving and challenging the tradition long thought to be the only route to publication. These outlying planets are new — rogue empires that are a haven for rebel writers. All are welcome and none are turned away. I'm referring to the world of self-publishing, also known as POD (print on demand). This new route to publishing is actually not as new as it may appear. Evolution and consumer demand have morphed the old vanity press industry into something much more desirable, respectable, and viable for today's writers. Although some may consider the POD destination to be a black hole that an aspiring author should avoid at all costs, others see it as a way to achieve their publishing goal. As the publishing world cuts costs and becomes increasingly more digital, the options offered by POD are becoming even more feasible for writers. In fact, more light is escaping from these black holes every year and illuminating new publishing success.

Some literary agents don't appear too fond of self-publishing or the value of self-published books. Perhaps it's because of the freedom it gives writers, or the control it takes away from agents. In fact, some recent posts on agent blogs have been quite enlightening, as are the many comments they've received, a large portion of which disagree with the opinions of those agents. Obviously, agents need to justify their existence as the gatekeepers for what material will be printed and passed along to the readers of the world. I don't devalue that duty in the least. I'm just not certain that's working out very well these days, because I've read a lot of published material lately that I would consider inferior to the excerpts that have been submitted to this blog by unpublished authors.

But aside from the control issue, there is another obvious reason that agents are not keen on the self-publishing option. If writers suddenly decided to take publishing into their own hands and stop submitting their work to literary agencies, more than a few agents would be looking for new jobs. So, it isn't surprising to hear an agent denounce self-publishing.

However, more and more writers are deciding that an agent's opinion is not the only opinion, or the final opinion, or the opinion that should determine the fate of their manuscript. Some writers have become weary with the rejection, have changed course, and have taken the self-publishing route. Many have gained more success with this new approach than their years of determined effort in traditional publishing ever brought them. It's a whole new world out there, and writers now have options other than turning their future over to an agent with no vested interest in their success.

But as a writer, you must determine the final fate of your story. If you decide to set your course for the POD Galaxy, the better-known outposts include Create Space, Lulu, Xlibris, and iUniverse, to name a few. These options allow a writer to bypass the traditional routes to publishing and just get on with it under their own direction and control. Your book can be published with generally no, or very little, upfront cost. It can be available to your readers in a short time in printed form on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or it can be downloaded in seconds to a Kindle or other digital reader. And if you think digital publishing is just a flash in the pan that's going to disappear, just ask literary agent Nathan Bransford.

If you haven't investigated this option for publishing your work, you might want to take a look, just so you know what is currently available in today's high-tech world. And if any of you have gone that route, please leave a comment and let us know how your journey went and whether you returned home safely or not.


  1. Great post! I love the analogy, and I look forward to seeing what self-publishers have to say. :-)

  2. Personally, I'm not ready to consider self publishing as an option, but I do wonder why agents should be so against it when they get literally thousands of submissions every month and complain of being slaves to their slush piles. And we hear all the time that they reject 99% of these, many of which are good books that they simply couldn't take on because they didn't "fall in love" with them.

    If you were an agent who loathed the drudgery of reading queries and slush, wouldn't you want to encourage more people to self-publish to ease the strain? Surely there will me more than enough writers who will keep trying the traditional route to keep them buried in the hated slush for years. It just strikes me as a little odd to mock your queriers on a daily basis and then decry the evil of self publishing.

  3. I have to say, it seems like people are coming down very hard on literary agents lately. They shouldn't be villified and tagged as "gatekeepers" whose sole purpose is to crush the dreams of aspiring authors.

    POD and e-pubbing is an option, but it's not an option for everyone. Personally, I aspire to see the title of my book along side the logo of one of my favorite imprints. My book is currently on submission and my agent has done a terrific job for me so far! I want to be published by one of those houses you claim are dying slow deaths. The beauty of this business is that you have options. Whether it be POD, e-pub, or the search for an agent and traditional publisher, we the writers make that choice! What a wonderful thing!

  4. I'm still of the opinion that traditional publishing is the way to go. Will I change my mind? Who knows? Still, it's nice to know writers can take multiple paths, if they choose.

  5. I agree, Amanda. Agents are getting a really rough time these days.
    At this point in my life I don't have the time or money to self-publish. I journeyed with a friend of mine through the self-pub process and I couldn't believe how much energy he put into it. Luckily, he has a good paying job that allowed him to go on a book tour while still getting paid.
    Right now, I can't afford to get my MS properly edited, and I barely have enough time to write my next one let alone market the current one.
    Self-publishing my become more appealing to me in the future, but I certainly wouldn't put anything out there without first having it thoroughly picked through by a professional editor--just like they do in traditional publishing.

  6. Thanks for an insightful post - this is encouraging to see that some agents as well are supporting self publishing - obviously most won't support it, an obvious conflict of interest, but the agents that are more interested in the writer and getting good work out of the closet and into the ether, are honest enough to offer support.

  7. I have never regretted using Smashwords to make my thriller novel into an ebook. After several failed manuscripts I finally wrote a book I know is right; and after two years of "this is good, but not for me," or "there's no market for this right now" I wasn't about to put the MS away forever. Smashwords rocks. "Pilate's Cross" has readers on iPads, Kindles, Nooks and just about every other kind of ereader. No regrets.

  8. I've read all your points, but self-publishing is not for me. I'm happy to have an agent who won't be paid unless I get paid. We win together and we lose together-- there's a comfortable symbiosis in working with an agent who's such a passionate advocate for my work. By pursuing this traditional route I don't pay any upfront costs for editorial work and publishing.

    I know it's not for everyone, but I'm glad I've made this decision.

    I also believe the agent system is still in place in many professions (actors, athletes, writers, etc.) for some good reasons. The artist can focus on the craft, and the agent can focus on negotiating the best contract.

    In addition, I do respect many of the existing editors in traditional publishing houses. I've met them over the years at library conferences and their deep love for books is contagious.

    I realize there are some very good reasons to self-publish, but it's not for me.

    Good luck to you. I wish you success in print!

  9. Thanks for all the great comments. Obviously, everyone has their own preference. And we all respect each others choices.

  10. I am very relieved to hear that I am not the only person who has noticed the decline in the quality of published material lately! There IS a reason I refuse to read new books ...


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