Friday, October 19, 2012

Day Six: Do We Still Need Conventional Publishers? by Jenny Twist

Friday is the day we announce the 4 winners of beautiful dream-catchers! 

 Please leave those EMAILS with COMMENTS! 

Join me today as we look into each author's contribution to their release of 
Bedtime Shadows

To keep up with what's going on in the tour, 
please check out this tour's Facebook page!

Take it away Jenny!

Do We Still Need Conventional Publishers?

In the modern world of e books and print on demand it is all too easy to imagine that conventional publishing will lose its raison d’être. It is now possible to produce your own book for nothing. Obviously this is a great boon for authors, especially the vast majority who were unable to get accepted by a publisher. But is it really such a boon? What do publishers actually do for their authors?

Having accepted an author’s work, it is the publisher’s job to put it into publishable form, i.e. make sure it is properly edited and provided with good cover art
Few, if any, authors are competent to edit their own work. No matter how good you are at proof-reading it’s very difficult to spot your own mistakes. You see what you expect to see, what you know to be there. You knew what you meant when you wrote that sentence, so may not realise that it doesn’t make sense to somebody else.

The independent author wishing to produce work of a professional standard has to, therefore, pay for an outside editor. One way round the cost is for authors to edit each other’s work. This is in any case often the way small press publishers handle editing, using their own authors rather than employing a professional.

Cover art is something else again. There are, of course, authors who are perfectly competent to do their own artwork. Perhaps more than you think. Creative people are often creative in more than one field. And there are packages available, free, for applying lettering to your original artwork. So it can theoretically be done at no cost. But my own experience has been that a professional cover artist is indispensable. I came across this when one publisher I approached would not accept submissions without cover art. I literally spent weeks trying to find the definitive picture of an angel for my book. I wanted a carved wooden angel – the kind of statue so beloved in village churches in Spain. I couldn’t find a single picture that conveyed what I wanted. Eventually, I did my own drawing based on a stone carving. And I still hadn’t a clue how to do the lettering! Luckily I was rescued from this task by having my manuscript accepted by another publisher. But the experience made me realise that I, for one, was definitely not up to the job.

One of the things that you might think publishers do for their authors is promote their work.

Wrong. The publisher’s job is to produce a product fit for the marketplace and make it available to the public and booksellers. It is not part of their brief to do promotion campaigns. Even the big publishing houses do very little of this. In fact, they are unlikely to do anything at all unless you are already a celebrity. It’s one of those Catch 22 situations. The chances are the only thing they will do is produce a monthly newsletter. So there is very little advantage for the author in using the conventional route as far as promotion is concerned. You have to do your own anyway.

You can promote without spending any money at all, using social network sites, writing blogs and newspaper articles, doing interviews on local radio and organising book signings. All this is free but very time-consuming and it is a constant cry from authors that they have no time to write because they spend all their time promoting.
There is actually no way round this. Even if you spend vast amounts of money on advertising, you probably still have to do a fair bit of promotion work. You could be the best writer that ever lived but no-one will buy your books if they’ve never heard of you.

There is, however, one major advantage conventional publishing offers the author. It confers respectability. A conventionally published author has been vetted, accepted and polished by a professional organisation. Many new self-published authors have great difficulty being taken seriously. Some review sites actually refuse to review independent authors.

And there is one further advantage of going the conventional route – the publisher deals with the distribution through booksellers. Booksellers are usually quite happy to deal with publishers since they take the books on a sale or return basis and have nothing to lose. In order to offer the same deal the independent author has to buy vast numbers of copies of his own book and negotiate individually with booksellers. The financial risk is enormous, not to mention the time spent approaching each outlet.

But what has this change in the business done for the reader? Well, for a start e books are much cheaper than printed books and there are literally thousands offered free every day as authors vie to get the attention of readers. Great, isn’t it?
Well, yes, it is, but we now have the problem of what to choose. Thousands of them! Where do you start?

I have gone from downloading anything that looked vaguely readable, to restricting downloads, even free downloads, to books by authors I know to be good, or people I have been wanting to read because I have come to know them on the social networks.
I have become jaded with free e books because so many of them are really badly-written. Sorry, but I’m afraid it’s true. Most independent authors produce badly-edited, if not unedited work. Many, if not most, have only a passing acquaintance with good grammar. And, I’m sorry to say this, but the vast majority have no talent for writing. I have read some truly awful books in the last year.

For every great writer who never made it out of the slush pile in the publisher’s office there are hundreds who should never have been in print in the first place. Whatever you may think of conventional publishing, it at least operates as a filter preventing the really bad authors getting through.   

Sooner or later the rush to get free books will die down and readers will begin to be more discerning. They will be prepared to pay for a book, provided they are confident they will be buying something of good quality. And this, surely, is where conventional publishing will come into its own.

If there is one area where conventional publishing can really justify its existence, it is in the provision of high quality books. I’m not talking about literature here. I’m talking about good, readable stories with well-constructed plots and believable characters, written in good, grammatically correct English.

Sadly too many publishers, especially in the small press, do not do this job very well. I am surprised at how many bad writers are being accepted and at how poorly their work is edited. In my opinion the only way the small press will survive is to maintain a rigorous standard of excellence, and that means no cutting corners. It means employing professional editors, rather than using their own authors to edit each other, a practice which only exacerbates the problem of taking on semi-literate authors in the first place. And maybe it means doing a bit more for their authors than just publishing their work, like providing proper marketing services.

Those publishers who do this will attract the best writers and will gain a reputation of excellence.
I recently noticed that those books I had most enjoyed reviewing over the past year have come almost exclusively from one publisher. This is not one of the big guys. In fact, I’d never heard of them before. Rather surprised, I went back over the books I had reviewed. Through this one little publisher I had discovered several very good authors and two great authors. Not bad for such a small organisation. I also realised that I would trust their judgement and would not only be happy to review any book they published but might even be prepared to pay good money for it.

If you’d like to check it out, the publisher in question is Untreed Reads: 

These people mean to survive and I, for one, will give them all the support I can. 

 Jenny Twist

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Mary Corrales said...

I have to agree that publisher do provide a valuable editing service, when done right. That's why I still prefer going the traditional route to publishing a book.

There are very few self-published authors that I read. They are the exception because the books are excellent and that includes grammar.

Hope publishers stick around.

Celia Yeary said...

Well, Jenny--I am impressed. The article caught my attention by the title, and I didn't even look at the author. I read every word, and you made excellent points, and made them very clear. At the bottom, I saw your photo--oh, that was written by Jenny Twist!
I hope many people read this--I agree with every single thing you said.
The only thing I would say differently, is that a traditional publisher gives the author "validity," in additon, I suppose to "respectibility."
I've suggested to a couple of new authors...when asked about self-publishing vs traditional...that in my opinion only, being accepted by a traditional publisher, such as a small press with a good reputation. would give her validity as an acceptable author and then she could later go into self-publishing.
I've seen and known more than I want to of friends and acquaintances just move into self-publishing without knowing how to write a clean ms. or even knowing how to write fiction. I could relate one tragic case, but I'll keep it to myself here.
Self-publishing is too tempting--I may give it a go someday, but right now I have five publishers, and I do not want to give them up. I need help--I'm smart, but not that smart, and I know my books would not turn out as well without a publisher.
Thanks so much for your great article.

Naomi Bellina said...

I have to agree with you about a lot of the self-pubbed books being not up to par. When I hit a typo (yes, we all make them, even after edits), then the second, then third, I want to write the author and suggest they hire an editor next time. Good post!

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Mary. Nice to meet you. I also hope they stick around. And I'm afraid I have to agree that the well-written self-published books are an exception.

Jenny Twist said...

Dear Celia. I am so flattered, and so pleased you agree. Sadly, I think it's true that it's virtually impossible to go it alone successfully. I know at least one really excellent author who really ought to be a best seller but is struggling to sell. And,as you so rightly say, it's very difficult to do a professional job.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Naomi. Yes, it happens all the time. And it's so upsetting (and distracting) when an otherwise good book is spoilt by poor editing.xx

valclarizio said...

The editing is a concern of mine with self-pubbed books as well. I want the comfort of knowing my book has been professionally edited.

Tara Fox Hall said...

A very realistic and concise article, Jenny :) I agree with everything you've said, but have to side with Celia in that I'm not ready to give up my publishers, because I also need help to make my work the best it can be.

Shadow said...

Hi! This book sounds so good! Definitely grabbing a copy! So excited to read it! Congrats you two! Great post. Very interesting. And those dream catchers are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing! Have a fantastic weekend!!

Lisa Markson said...

I think we need both types because not everyone fits in a cookie cutter mold. Congrats on book can't wait to read.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Tara. I don't actually think publishers will disappear. But you need less help than you think. You're getting better and better all the time.

Jenny Twist said...

Hey, thanks, Shadow. You've made my day.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Lisa. I agree. And I'm pretty sure that's what will happen. I'm just hoping that those publishers that remain will begin to do more for their authors.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Wonderful post, Jenny - it has certainly given me much clearer thoughts on why I'm still planning to go through publishers where possible!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Interesting post, Jenny. I agree about publishers and editing. I think writers need to be experienced before they try the self-published route, or need to have their work edited.

Jane Lovering said...

Wonderful post, Jenny, and I fully agree with many of your points. I, too, have pretty much given up on self-pubbed books. I make an exception for authors who have a history of being traditionally published but who, for various reasons, have either decided not to continue that way, or whose past rights have reverted and who have decided to make old books available on Kindle, as self-published titles.

Just because anyone can write a book doesn't mean anyone SHOULD write a book, but so many people in these days of quick-fix, quick-results, think that simply finishing a book-length manuscript means that this book should then be available to everyone to buy. They seem to forget all the hard work in between, the editing and cover work, as you pointed out. Too many want instant results, which they see as being huge amounts of money falling into their bank accounts. Hollow laughter.

I think there is room for both forms, indie and publisher, and I agree with you that the reading public will be the ones who make the self-publishing world a better place.

Linda Banche said...

Hi Jenny,

I agree, publishers provide a valuable service. But not all writers can fit into the traditional publishing mode. For them, they have no choice but to go the self-publishing route. Lest anyone think otherwise, I'm talking about serious authors who work hard on their books, but their subject matter may not fit the currently popular genres.

That said, I have books at a small pub, and I just self-pubbed a novelette. I wanted to see what all the excitement was about. I don't know yet which way I'll go.

I also think an individual author can do a lot of the editing herself, but only *IF* she's the type who is painstaking with her work. She has to go over her stuff with a fine tooth comb and then some, and has to know spelling (not just the spell-checker) and grammar. Lots of work to read and reread and reread, etc., your manuscript again and again and again to find typos and plot holes, but it can be done. With my indie novelette, I wrote it and polished it, let it sit for a month, then went back and polished some more and added a scene to cover a plot hole. I like the story the way it is. And then I had another writer read it. She made a few comments, which I incorporated. When my last novella with an epub required little editing from the assigned aditor because I'm so painstaking, I decided to do the editing for my self-pubbed novelette myself.

Covers are another matter. I bought a pre-made cover for my indie book. I can't draw and I have no interest in it.

Untreed Reads is now publishing the backlist of my favorite author, Barbara Metzger. I'm glad she found someone she likes. I just wish she would write something new.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Rosemary. Thanks for your support. You're so nice to know

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Lindsay. I think you're right about self-published authors. In fact, however experienced we are, I think we all need editing. The problem is, getting published is such a lottery. I'm sure some excellent writers have been sitting in slush piles forever.

Jenny Twist said...

Hi Linda. What a very interesting comment. I, too, have just released a self-pubbed story as an experiment - after employing a professional editor and cover artist. It's doing better than any of my conventionally-published work so far and makes me more money per book. But what is REALLY interesting is it seems to have inspired interest in my backlist. I noticed an upturn in sales a day or so later. I assume that being able to offer the story at a very low price persuaded some people who were marginally interested in me to actually buy it and that some of them went on to buy my other books.
Your favourite author, Barbara Metzger, must be good if Untreed Reads is publishing her work. I'll look out for her.