Do you think an Author's Union would be a way to put some pressure on publishers? Isn't it about time that we had some say in how much advance money we deserve or are we in a position to always accept what the publisher offers? Or are we just at the mercy of the agents (opinionated as they may be) and the publishers and whatever the market will bear?

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We do have a say. It's called not signing a contract you disagree with. POD technology is going to change the publishing industry. It might be a slow change, but it will come. But for now, if you don't like the way the system works, don't buy into it. Publish your books yourself, get your friends and colleagues to help you edit it (something they would probably do for free) and get it on Amazon.com. Everything is moving towards the internet anyway, so the more you know about it now, the easier it will be to make projections about what you will need to do in the future.

But the truth is, a publisher like Random House offers nothing that I can't do myself. Maybe the publisher can do it better and/or easier, but I have the ability, should I choose to do it, to write my novel, get some people to help me edit it, design my own cover for it, typeset it, and contract with a POD press or if I had the initial investment, an off-set press, and I can put it up on Amazon.com so people can find it. And I can do all this with free software (the GIMP in place of photoshop, Inkscape in place of Illustrator--these two for cover design, and Scribus in place of Indesign or Quark for typesetting/layout. Although I should point out that the GIMP currently does not support CMYK, so photoshop is still going to be the best bet for something intended for print.)

Now all this requires technical knowledge and work, which may be more than a given person might want to put into the process, and it may still not be the best option for getting your book in print. But it is an alternative. Right now we have an alternative to the "traditional" way of publishing. It just hasn't caught on yet and it hasn't become practical for the average author. If authors, as a whole, cared more about producing the best book they could, something they could really get into and enjoy, instead of being so concerned with how much money they were going to make, then the above alternative option I gave would be more viable.

The problem, as I see it, with a union, is that a union utilizes blanket negotiating. That is, they work to negotiate something that will benefit all its members. The individual is undermined by the needs of the group. But author's needs vary widely. Setting an advance rate, for example, isn't going to be be fair to everyone, and it would have to be low, since so many people would be affected by it. And what would result? Publishers simply wouldn't take on as many projects as they do now, because most books don't make money anyway, and if they had to pay a set advance as negotiated by the union, then they are already giving up money in exchange for no kind of guarantee that they will make money in the future.

Unions are good for the little guy, for unskilled workers who can be replaced easily, such as in an assembly line at a factory. They need a powerful group to stand up for them. But for people who write novels, for example, a decidedly niche market, what good is a Union? The agent really is a customized union, because he goes after the interest of one person at a time (that is, he doesn't negotiate for all of his clients for one contract, or even with just one publisher). So if you think the agents aren't helpful, if you think the publisher is taking advantage, or anything like that, then the answer is to just stay away from them and do it yourself, or maybe get together with a group of like-minded authors and form your own publishing house. I don't see how a union could benefit the process at all.
But the truth is, a publisher like Random House offers nothing that I can't do myself. Maybe the publisher can do it better and/or easier, but I have the ability, should I choose to do it, to write my novel, get some people to help me edit it, design my own cover for it, typeset it, and contract with a POD press or if I had the initial investment, an off-set press, and I can put it up on Amazon.com so people can find it.

I must disagree. What the publishers offer us, beyond "credibility", is distribution. As someone picked up by a tiny press for the first book I know first hand about the challenges of getting the book in bookstores. Current estimates are that only 10% of book sales happen online.

And truly, if someone can't design a cover or do proper edits, at least pay a professional.

Self publishing is a step back from where we're at right now, if you ask me.
Amazon.com is distribution. You can get your book on Amazon without having to go through a major publisher. In brick and mortar stores, yes, that is something a major publisher can do that I can't, on a large scale, as I have mentioned already below. Online sales may be 10% now, but that will also change. That number will go up. And if marketed online effectively, and yes, with some luck, I can get all the sales I want online. But then my personal goals/beliefs are not universal. If I had a choice between 1000 people reading my book for free or one person reading my book for $1000, I would take the 1000 readers.

The way I see it, advertising outside of the internet for books is practically non-existent unless you already have a readerbase. What books do you see advertised anywhere besides the internet? Bestsellers, 90% of the time at least. Okay, newspaper reviews, but newspaper readership is declining and has been for a long time. PW reviews, but only industry people read that anyway.

So if you just want to make money, well...I guess there isn't an option at all, since in all likelihood, you won't make much money even with a "traditional" publisher. But if you want a large readership? The internet.

As far as self-publishing being a step back, I refer you to my second post here. Yes, it is a step back right now. But that can change.

"And truly, if someone can't design a cover or do proper edits, at least pay a professional."--Are you saying that a person can only be good at something if he/she is getting paid for it (payment is, after all, what separates the professional from the amateur)? I don't believe you are saying that, since you said if a person can't do it himself, but if I can't do it myself I can enlist the help of others who would be willing to do it for free, such as the example I gave below.
John, you say "I can put it up on Amazon.com so people can find it", but I think the reality behind that sentence is a little more complicated than you suggest...

But anyway, imagine every single writer goes down the self-published route. Effectively, you now have a hundred-thousand publishing companies with a single employee, either doing all the work for themselves or farming parts out to charitable friends, or paying relative strangers. Each writer is trying to establish the credibility of their company: how do they differentiate themselves from the crowd - or how does the reader?

Internet marketing can help, I'm sure, but beyond a certain level of ingenuity, internet marketing costs money (and has no actual bearing on the quality of the product). The writers with the most cash behind them will therefore have the most opportunities to at least get their work into readers' hands. To address the issue of credibility, it will make sense for writers to form loose, reciprocal connections with successful artists, editors, designers, publicists, and so on, and maintain those from book to book. The company expands, everybody taking a cut, and develops a house style the reader can recognise. As the world moves on, the connections will firm up to form smaller versions of modern day publishing houses. They will even take on more authors that fit the house, lending them the benefit of their expertise. All the time, the company will be accumulating money in the background that renders the profits of an individual house writer less and less important to the company as a whole. And so on...

In such a way - IMHO - a corporate structure would rise out of the mists of feudalism. The writers outside the companies would remain frustrated. The consumer, most likely, would breathe a massive sigh of relief.
So if you just want to make money, well...I guess there isn't an option at all, since in all likelihood, you won't make much money even with a "traditional" publisher. But if you want a large readership? The internet.

NO. I run an online ezine that averages more than 10,000 downloads per issue. Not even 1/10 of that number have bought my first book. Not even 1/20. Lee Child walked up to me at Bouchercon Madison and said, "You have a huge online presence."

Means shit for sales.

If you think amazon is enough, you're dreaming. Thirty years from now we'll have a different conversation, but right here, right now, no no no.
Did you quote the part of my post that you meant to? Because your rebuttal actually reinforces the quote you have in bold at the top of your post.

I was saying that you probably won't make much money publishing a book regardless. But if you want readers, go to the internet. And then you backed me up. You get 10,000 d/l per issue? That's pretty darn good, and I would say that's a large readership. And it's on the internet. That reinforces the second half of my quote. Less than 1/20 of that 10,000 have bought your book. You didn't self-publish, correct? So you went through a publisher. And you didn't make a whole lot (well, how much is a whole lot, right? But you imply it's not much when you say "means shit for sales"). So that reinforces the first part of my quote.

It seems that you really responded to the part where I said that with effective online marketing, i can get all the sales I want. How many sales is that? Well, that's subjective; it would be a different number for every person, so saying that if I think Amazon is enough than I'm dreaming isn't fair, especially since I said that I would rather have a 1000 readers and no money than $1000 and only one reader. Amazon might not be enough for you, but it just might be enough for me.

And again, I've said time and again that my ideas put forth will mean more in the future. I do believe it will be less than 30 years, but of course, I have no way to prove something that hasn't happened yet; I'm just speculating.
I agree with John that I don't think a Union would be particularly helpful. How can you standardise advances? That would be somewhat akin to paying the same price for a gig ticket to see Green Day at Wembley Arena as you would to see Pongo Pete and His Incredible Whistling Umbrella in Big Shuggie's Dive Bar in Lower Throstlebottom. There are a lot of different factors which determine an author's advance - size of the publisher, popularity of the author, whether it's the latest hot topic etc.

I don't agree with John that going the self-publishing route is necessarily a good idea, nor that Random House couldn't do anything he couldn't - they can - they can get your book into bricks and mortar book stores, they can give you credibility, they can give you a cover which isn't a pile of steaming shite, they can edit the book, make sure it looks professional, make sure you're not making an arse of yourself by publishing something which stinks, they can promote your book (maybe). And most of all, they do that without charging you any money, or mean that you have to shell out $50K or whatever to start up your own publishing company.

I love small presses - small presses that care about the books they publish - Point Blank, Busted Flush, Hard Case, Capital Crimes etc. They put out amazing books that look great, and are exciting and fresh to read. They may not pay advances, and some of them use POD technology, but they take all the financial burden off the author and don't fleece them in the process.

99% of the self-published books I have read (iUniverse, PublishAmerica and their ilk) have been awful - amateur looking covers either drawn by their nephew who once one an art competition when he was 6 or from a photo taken by auntie Edna and stuck on the front with a crappy font, badly edited with several typos and grammatical errors on every page and, most of all, the story is utter drivel. And to expect someone to pay over the odds for it (author AND reader) doesn't do anyone any favours (except the vanity presses themselves).

Getting a book published involves hard work and luck. And sometimes it's not fair. But it's a lot fairer than a company like PublishAmerica taking your hard earned cash and putting out something which makes you look like a numpty.
Oh, I like that word. :)
Which one, numpty or Throstlebottom?
Numpty. It doesn't get much more stupidly pathetic while being also pitiful. :)
I agree that the points you made are the way things are now. But I believe they won't always be that way. Self-published books have an automatic stigma, and for good reasons--the reasons you've already listed. That stigma can be erased, but it will take time and it will mean the quality of self-published books actually increasing.

It's your second paragraph I don't agree with, for the most part. The things you listed about Random House (which just represents a publisher, no one is picking on them specifically). They can get my book into an actual brick and mortar store. Yes, that is one thing they can do that I can't, at least on a national level. Yes, I can go to my local B&N and convince them to stock my book, but all the stores all over the country? No way. My own belief is that brick and mortar stores are becoming less and less relevant, and over time Amazon is going to crush B&N, unless B&N changes itself.

The reason I think Amazon is so much better than B&N naturally stems from my own experience. Amazon is cheaper, faster, and they package their books better than B&N. Let's say a book is just released, and I go into B&N to buy it. Even with the 10% member discount and the 30% off discount since it's a new book, in most cases I can still get the book cheaper or at least at the same price as B&N. When it comes to price, B&N just cannot compare. Amazon ships faster (three days tops for me, every time, even with the free shipping option). B&N takes about a week. Amazon shrink wraps its books to cardboard unless you buy a lot at once, whereas B&N just puts your book in a thin cardboard box. The last time I ordered from B&N, the box came partially opened, and the books were dinged up. So in short, B&N blows compared to Amazon. I know a lot of people like going into an actual store to purchase their books. i do too, but not if I have to pay more for the book, especially given the outrageous prices of books anyway ($24.95 for a hardcover? i can get a DVD for less than that, and a DVD has more replay value).

It would be great if B&N were replaced with Amazon brick and mortar stores, so then I could have the shopping experience and the low prices. I hope that day comes.

Now, back to RH. They can give you credibility--yes, right now self-publishing has a stigma, but that is something that can change, though not easily, I admit that. They give you a decent cover. Well, yes, mostly, unless your publisher is a UK publisher. No offense to any British Crimespacers, but every UK cover I have seen with only one or two exceptions, has been worse than its US counterpart. That's just been my experience, maybe it's not representative. The reason I don't like UK covers is the design elements don't blend together. They stick out. I can practically see the different layers the designer had when he was designing it in photoshop. For an example, check out this

The top picture is the US version. The bottom is the UK version. Blech. Where did that lens flare come from on the text anyway? But anyway, yes, for the most part the publisher can get you a good designer. But you can do it yourself if you are good at it. That's the key. Like I said before, it requires technical knowledge. And in this case, an eye for design. But even if you can't deign something good yourself, and this goes for layout and typesetting too, then you can always commission someone to do it yourself. But that costs money. But then, it costs the publisher money to do that too. Those publishers don't have designers working for them for free do they? Just because the publisher isn't charging you for it doesn't mean its not costing you anything. If the publisher didn't have to pay for a cover, then they could afford to give you more money for your book.

And once the internet becomes a larger presence in the publishing world, you'll be able to get covers and layout done for free, through collaboration. You can go to an online forum, post something about your work and ask if someone can make a cover for you. Someone will jump at that chance, a graphic designer who is looking for more practice, or something to put in his portfolio to help his own career. This already happens from time to time on the internet. It's only a matter of time before this process becomes more popular.

As far as the editing goes, I don't automatically give credit to an editor just because he works for a publisher. I've read plenty of books that had grammatical errors, typos, etc. I've read plenty of books that I wondered how did it ever get into print. I'm sure everyone has. So editors are not perfect, and they may not even be preferred. I'd rather have five to ten random people I didn't know read my book and give me feedback on it. These are people who might actually buy the book, so why not listen to them? And more responses means a better overall feel for what needs work. Collaboration really is important. Everyone digs on wikipedia and claims it's inaccurate, but it's really accurate more often than it's not. Because if I post something on there that is inaccurate, someone will catch it and edit it to make it accurate. You don't get that with Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Promotion and marketing can be done on the internet, and for free. You can reach a lot of people that way if it's done properly (which is the hard part), and you can direct people to Amazon or some other online bookseller. If you take advantage of viral marketing and come up with something new and fun, then promotion on the internet can be 100 times more effective than anything the publisher can do, and you really can do that stuff for free. It's not really free though, because it will take time and effort.

I agree that publishing takes hard work and luck. My alternative is not for everyone and it certainly does require a lot of hard work, maybe more than people want to put into it. But it is an option. I admit, it is an option which will become more viable in the future. For now, the traditional way of publishing will probably be the best bet. But how can we make my alternative more viable? By more people actually doing. It will take someone to do it and to succeed at it before this method is taken seriously on a large scale.

Just because self-published books suck now doesn't mean they always will. We can change it, but only if we really want to and only if we put in the time and effort to do it. Until then, we'll just have to put up with what the publishers give us.
Long post, so just a couple of things:
Amazon vs B&N (or other stores): quite right both on the ordering ease and the fast shipping. Also, their selection is vast. Brick and mortar stores cater to the best sellers (which is why our book production is totally out of whack and weighted toward bad thrillers or romances).

Editors: There are two kinds for every published book: the acquisitions editor, who chooses title, cover art, and maybe (this is a big maybe), reads and suggests changes in the text. From what I have seen, these folks are often very young. The other kind is the copy editor, sometimes in-house, but also often part of some home industry elsewhere in the country. He/she is responsible for the grammar, diction, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, American spelling, and just about every picky little thing having to do with writing. My guess is that these folks are retired English teachers. For an author they are useful but also hugely time-consuming and irritating, since their every objection (they are industrious creatures with lots of time on their hands) has to be checked, and reasons given for every "stet."
If a book is published with gross errors still in it, I would be very tempted to blame it on the author (refusing to allow changes to the author's version) or on the type setter ignoring all corrections passed to him/her by the author in the ms. and in the galleys.
But what this illustrates is that there is a whale of a lot of work done by a writer after the book is sold.

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