A farewell to all that

Those days are gone, put out to pasture.

I first became a published author in 1982. Since then, seven of my novels have been published by mainstream, traditional publishing companies, including Coward-McCann (absorbed into GP Putnam’s), Bantam, and Other Press. My first agent is considered to be among the hottest agents in the business. It was a long and fine ride, and I feel fortunate and lucky to have been on that train for 30 years.

Now I’m getting off. Or more accurately, while I was in the station taking a break, not really paying enough attention, the train pulled out and left me behind.

So I’ve been standing on the platform for quite a long time, waiting to see if the train will back up for me. I guess not.

But I am a writer, a novelist, and have been one much of my life. I have no idea how to stop writing stories; it would be like giving up food and expecting to survive on memories of what eating was like.

Fact is, I was getting sick of what has become of the mainstream publishing business for a long time: the “you need us, we don’t need you” attitude, the blatant abuse heaped on authors by publishing companies, the rude disregard for the time and intense effort writers put into their work, the mother-like control publishers impose on their writer children, handing out a petty allowance to authors while keeping profits for their corporate owners … .

So the mainstream publisher train has left the station, and I am leaving the platform.

I have decided to stop submitting new work to traditional publishing companies. Instead, I am going to DIM: Do it myself. It is a simple process to put one’s works out in digital form — four of my novels are already available on eReaders, and in a couple of months have sold as many copies as my two still-in-print novels have combined in the past year. It’s not about the money, which is, and almost always is, a trivial amount for authors; it’s about readers. What value is a story-teller without an audience?

But I admit to my obsession with the book, the object itself. So more than just making my work available digitally, I am also going to use one of the new POD publishers (Create Space, Author House, Xlibris … ) to turn my novels into books, the paper kind, which will be available for sale in the usual places. People who want to read books will have that choice, and people who now use only eReaders will have their choice.

Using one of the DIM services gives me more control over the book itself than I have ever had before, offers choices traditional publishers do not offer authors (such as cover and interior design). I maintain all the rights, unshared, to my work. Most of the royalties go to me, not the company. It feels like finally being recognized as the creator of the novel, not just a small part of the “publishing process.”

My last completed manuscript, a novel set mostly in the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the south, called “Blossom,” the name of the town where it is set, has been finished for more than two years. During that time, it has made its way through the offices of just a handful of publishers — some kept it longer than three months before deciding not to take it on. For two wasted years, that novel has bounced around among a few companies, when it could have already been in the marketplace, where readers could already have access to it. I am too old for that. There isn’t enough time to play games with the conglomerate mentality, especially since in the end, I wasn’t going to get much out of it anyway.

Like many things, I am slow to get the message. But I have gotten this one: traditional, mainstream book publishing is going to either have to change or die, and it is not smart for writers to keep trying to jump on board a train that is heading for derailment.

A photo of the author in the beginning, three years after publication of my first novel.


13 replies »

  1. pretty exhilarating to hear this from someone like you – who had a long history with traditional publishing houses and several books out in the market for three decades. I mean, if you’re here to make this ‘announcement’, the rest of us — still struggling to even put that manuscript together – should have a more realistic approach to this whole ordeal.

  2. Writers are notoriously unrealistic. Maybe the curse of imagination? Publishing companies feed on our dreams, gobble us up and take all the nourishment.

    When really good writers, especially the best of the young, begin to abandon traditional publishing as the first option (instead of waiting to be burned out with all those wasted years piled up in one’s history), and figure out how much creative power they have by going digital and with DIY / POD book publishers, where they control all aspects of their work, the lingering stigma leftover from the purely vanity days will go away and traditional publishers will make significant changes or disappear into the history of the old days.

  3. From what I understand, the more material you have to put on the e-bookshelf, the better off you’ll be. Get Blossom out there. And when you get the rewrite of Only Love done, put that out. You’ll have a substantial oeuvre that people can purchase and enjoy. Well done, I think.

    Also, I like this new site design. It’s clean and elegant.

    • The same way I get bored walking the same streets day after day on my way to a cafe, I get tired of looking at the same blog design after a while. I like this one too, it is clean and neat, and I also like that it doesn’t list the full content of every post, which requires a lot of scrolling down.

      Much of development of an eBook readership depends on word of mouth, and there isn’t much I can do about that. By the time Blossom gets there, then Only Love, I’ll have six novels available on eReaders. Although my heart is with the paper version.

      Since you have a few thousand friends, it would be handy if you posted about Blossom when it’s available. You’ll know as soon as anyone.

      • I will. You should consider picking one of your books to sell at .99. A gateway drug, perhaps. Several authors do that. Either give one away for a while or sell it cheap. The trick is climbing the bestseller list at Amazon, so you’ll have more visibility. Free almost always drives a book up the list. You don’t have to keep it free for long.

        I’d drop Possessed by Shadows to .99 for a month or two and see what happens. If that doesn’t work, try one of the other ones. The higher you can get on the list (and it often doesn’t take many sales to make a major leap) the more often you’ll be a “recommended title” or whatever it’s called. You’ll get more eyeball time.

        • I agree with Brad. Drop one or more of your books to 99 cents as a gateway drug.

          Send some free copies to some folks – if you get a few reviews, you’ll move up the ranks; evidently reviews play a major role in this.

          • “The Last Island” is 99 cents. It is not all that easy to make changes once you have a book in Kindle and iPad to make changes. It’s not just click a box and make a change. But there is no reason why I wouldn’t put all this at 99 cents, or maybe one at $1.99. I’m not making a living from this anyway. I don’t know yet what will happen with Blossom, because if I go with one of this POD publishers, like Author House, they do the digital process, as well as the print. I’m still in the novice learning stage.

  4. Hi Don,
    You know, I’m finishing up my memoir and am thinking of going the POD route.
    So your post is timely. Maybe I can learn something on your coattails!

  5. I’ve done some concentrated reading about these various POD publishers, and an leaning toward Author House. They seem to produce the kind of quality book I want, and take care of all the digital business along the way. I have found tons of complaints about all of them, but what can you do?

    Why don’t you blog anymore like the old days, Rose? I miss you that way.

  6. Wow, it seems more and more traditionally published authors are “deboarding” the train. I keep hearing the same thing about traditional publishers using an archaic model, which, in my opinion is an advantage for the “little guys” like us. I’ve been indie publishing with my company The Pantheon Collective for a little over a year and love it. I also agree dropping to 0.99 is a good way to drive your Amazon rankings up, get higher sales, and gain new reader fans quickly. I sold over 600 copies of one book in one month when I first tested out the 0.99 price point (previous month 70 at 2.99). IMO, creating your publishing company (your own EIN, logo, tagline, etc) is the best way to go.

  7. I hear that, too. I believe that one of my old teachers, James Alan McPherson, who is about as powerful an author as one gets — pulitzer prize, a guggenheim, and a MacArthur (genius) fellowship — has abandoned mainstream, traditional publishing to take control of his own work: DIY. When authors like McPherson are giving up and moving on, what’s the point of struggling against the receding tide by young unknown writers?

    Four of my novels are now digital, and two of them are at .99. I haven’t looked at sales in the few days since I lowered the price. They are long out of print novels, so any sales are better than no sales.

    As far as creating my own imprint, not likely — I am way too lazy and not nearly hungry enough. At this point, I don’t mind joining forces with a decent POD publisher and letting them do for me the things I don’t want to do for myself.

    Congratulations on your impressive success.