Why the hell would I want to sell a book?

ETA: Let it be VERY clear up-front, that I am talking about Big Publishers here. There are many smaller publishers that are wonderful, on the ball, and don’t leave their writers hanging. Tsana drew my attention to this post, which provides more arguments, if you needed any.

Beware, some puppies will be kicked in this post.

I had an epiphany on the weekend.

You see, I harboured a small hope that if only people like agents and publishers saw my bio and saw that I was writing a new book, they might offer me things, like, a publishing contract, and then I wouldn’t have to do anything to sell my books and Big Publishing Company would do it all for me. Yeah, right, I know.

There is also that issue of the Harper Collins open submission period. Do I submit something? Don’t I submit something? What the hey, what is there to lose, really?


It all comes down to the question: what do I want from my writing?

About two weeks ago, I met another writer, and as we were sitting and talking over coffee, we discussed submissions. Said writer hopes to be published traditionally and mentioned to me how utterly depressing it is to send something on request by an editor to then have it sitting on that editor’s desk for two years, only to hear back “we like it, but we’re not going to buy it.”

Well, crap. That’s two years of your life.

Two years of not doing anything with that manuscript. Two years of hope.

I understand how publishing works. I understand how and why things take a long time. I like book editors I’ve met. They’re nice people who genuinely go in to bat for their authors.

But man, two years.

You know, Big Publishers have audiences and all that. That’s something you can’t drum up on your own.

Yup, I know. So all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I uploaded the first three chapters of my book to a publisher site.

That of course put me straight in the path of a licherary snob (not an employee of the publisher, but just a random) who wrote a three-page review about the first three sentences and appended another standard bit of cut & paste advice to it. Yeah-blergh, like I really needed a dose of Creative Writing 101. Which part of WOTF winner and Analog did you not get, dude? Why ever did you think that minutiae of wording made that much of a difference anyway? I write as I write and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else. Tell me that it’s crap. That’s OK by me, just don’t tell me that I should Write Like You, because… well, fuck off, man.

I also poked about a bit in their forums, where I found some threads on people laboriously pontificating on the possibility of uploading their books to Amazon as if this was something they’d only heard about yesterday. And then the replies… urgh.


I am SO over this shit.

I am OVER licherary snobs holding up self-imposed measures of quality. I am over old-school editors snooting on Twitter that they are God’s greatest gift to the literary world and their primary function is to save writers from themselves especially the eeeevil self-publishing hordes (insert sneeze that sounds like E.L. James). I am OVER non-responses, year-long waiting times and being fucked around by people. I am OVER writers clamouring for rays of hope while the traditional publishing model is fast riding off into the sunset.

Seriously, what rock are these people living under? One that stinks of an issue with the sewerage, that’s for sure.

Why the hell would I sign a traditional publishing contract, especially ones of the kind that stipulate things like right of first refusal on other works? WTF? Are you with me and can you see the manuscript sitting there on the desk for two years? For every book I write? You got to be joking.

The money? Advances in the US may be in the five figures, but in Australia, they’re definitely not. The most I’m likely to see from a novel is a few thousand bucks. Well, you know what, the trilogy is ready well underway to earning that… this year. I’m not talking about next year, or the year after that. Why would I sign to receive 7% of RRP when I can get 70% or even 80%? Why the hell would I take books offline that are selling a couple of copies each day?

Quality? Well, people can look at my bio and see I’m not a doozy. In terms of whether or not I can write, I prefer to speak in terms of sales. Because no matter how much licherary snobs like to think so, there is no common testable definition of quality. The problem of getting sales is to find the people who like to read what you write. The rest of the world will probably think it’s crap, but that’s OK. They’re not, and will never be, your audience.

Marketing? Yeah, maybe. This applies for print books, though. Why would I sign a contract which pays me no advance to get a much smaller percentage of RRP for a book that will be sold at twice the price alongside my self-published books? The marketing drawcard will be my name, because who the hell looks at the publisher anyway? Why would I think it’s OK to sign a contract that buys print rights, even though they won’t be used? This was the reason my contract for Watcher’s Web fell through, btw. Because I wanted Australian print rights. Australian Only. Blergh.

Recognition? Well, that’s always nice, but if you feel you need regular confidence boost from a sale to a reputable venue, you’re doing it wrong. You do not want the publishers to approve of your fiction. You want readers to approve of your fiction. They do this by buying it. Whichever reader looks at the publisher when they’re buying… OK, OK, you get the gist. Your name is the drawcard. You. Not the publisher. What? Did I say that before?

Genre magazines are totally cool. They provide fast turnaround and fast reversion of rights after a sale.

Small press can be awesome. They can be easy to work with, can do things you don’t want to or can’t do, and contracts are negotiable.

Large publishers…

Bye bye for now.

Watch my fat arse as I skip into the big blue yonder.

14 comments on “Why the hell would I want to sell a book?

  1. I disagree only on one point: I haven’t heard of a lot of five figure advances in the USA, either, unless you’re a pretty big name.

    Go, Patty, go!

    • Hehe. Thanks for commenting.

      I know some writers with five-figure advances. Anyway, the size of thr advance is a secondary issue. At this point in time, I don’t want to have anything taken out of circulation for that long.

    • This is purely in relation to my question if I should even want to send anything to the HC open submissions. Small press are awesome and I say so. Any press that negotiates is awesome, but there are just so many horror stories of new writers with large presses, that at this point in time I cannot see why this is an attractive option.

  2. I started submitting to publishers this year, and I have had the same thoughts. Granted, our publishers have a general return time of 3-8 weeks, the longest I have waited i 3 months, so it is more worth the wait, but one publisher has an estimated wait of 6 months and I am seriously contemplating not sending to them.

    If my novel gets accepted and sells well, then I might earn around so and so amount. I would earn the same amount if I manage to sell 850- 900 copies self-published e-books.

    Out of 3 rejections I have received so far, two were personal and one of these two was 100% positive regarding the writing quality, so I am quite confident that I would not be self-publishing total crap.

    • Things to remember about publishers and contracts is that if you get an offer and are asked to sign away rights (as would be natural for any contract), you don’t sign away rights that they’re not going to use, you don’t give them exclusivity on anything except the work you’re signing for, and (very important) that the contract stipulates time limits: that the book has to be published within xxx or the rights will revert to you, that they can sell an ebook for xxxx. The first is especially important if the publisher runs into trouble or goes bust.

  3. Yup, got those covered, thank you. 🙂

    We have a national author organization that have a section dedicated to contracts, and they mention all of these points.

    Most of the contracts I have been able to take a peek at does include them, but I suspect there will be less of these as time goes by, since it used to be that the author organization and the publisher organization were obliged to use the same standard contract, but that was altered a few year ago.

  4. Pingback: Friday Features #26 - yesenia vargas

  5. I also find it hard to swallow the attitudes in the traditional publishing world, and I live in a place where I meet New York agents and editors in person sometimes. Their condescension towards struggling writers make me cringe inwardly, even while I hold my smile and kiss their egos. I would make a lot of changes to the major publishing houses, if I were in charge.

    But even while I say these things, I keep submitting my manuscripts to them. I’ve waited ten years; what’s another 2 or 3? I can always write more novels. If I land a major contract from a major publisher … boy, will I have a lot of books to sell them.

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