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.