The Publishing Industry: Chaos in Action???

Published October 9, 2014 by JoAnna Senger

For months now, I have been hearing contradictory information about publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, CreateSpace, and other terms.  As a writer, I thought that I understood the various terms.  Nope!  

For example, I thought I knew what the term “self-published” meant. The author must write the work, arrange and pay to create the cover, produce the work, publicize and market the work, and then take money or arrange for the billing/payment side of the transaction.  By that definition, I am not self-published because I have a publisher and am not involved in the production/sales side.

When bookstores kept asking me if I was self-published and I kept saying “no,” they would not take “no” for an answer.  Bookstore staff asked me if I paid my publisher to publish my work, if my publisher was a vanity press, and other similar questions.  One exceptionally kind bookstore manager took me aside and spent an hour with me and the bookstore buyer to explain the bookstore point of view.

Here are two sides of the publishing coin that have come my way.  I would be most grateful to hear opinions from people, especially writers,on these two points of view.

Publishing according to bookstores:

The Big Six publishing houses (or is it now the Big Five?) serve as a validation stamp for any book.  We bookstores don’t have time to read the thousands of books that come out every year.  We rely on the Big Five-or-Six to vet the authors, put up some front money to produce the book, and most importantly, go through Baker & Taylor or Ingram to deliver the books to us.  We want to stock books and then, after a reasonable period of time, return them if they don’t sell.  Consignment selling is too much trouble.   If your book is print-on-demand, you are self-published as far as we’re concerned.

It’s Big Five-or-Six or nothing.  If the author is good, one of those publishers will publish his/her work.


Publishing according to Self-Published Authors:

The publishing industry is collapsing and everyone knows it but them.  They are slow to respond and even if one of them publishes your work, they only actively market 20% of the books they publish.  Odds are, your book won’t be in that hallowed 20%.  Further, they take more money from you than you’ll ever be able to track.  Unless you are already a big name, you’ll have to spend at least $3000 including travel to market your book and you’ll be lucky to break even.

Writers can spend that same effort on Amazon which can do everything the publisher does and faster.  Your percentage will be much greater.  True, bookstores won’t stock your book or invite you to signings, but who goes to bookstores any more, anyway?

Amazon vs. Established Publishers

There is a war going on between Amazon and the established publishers.  I recently contacted a mid-range publisher with whom I shared a contact about a book of mine.  The first question he asked was, “Is it out on Amazon?  That could be a problem.”

The following link will direct those interested to articles on the feud between Amazon and the French publisher Hachette:

3 comments on “The Publishing Industry: Chaos in Action???

  • Given that you have a traditional publisher, even if it is not one of the Big Five, I would say that you are definitely traditionally published. This viewpoint by bookstores, that authors outside of the Big Five are essentially “self-published,” is upsetting, but not shocking, to me. Admittedly, I lean toward self-publishing as the best way to navigate the industry in this day and age, and I think the bookstores’ views of publishing say why. Unless you can get a deal with a Big Five, it really seems like you might as well self-publish — at least then, you can control your work and get a fair cut of the royalties. But, I know my opinion is in the minority. It would definitely be interesting to hear some more experienced writers’ views on this.

  • I agree with Kate. I know many professional writers, some who have left the Big Six totally to self-publish, while others play the field both ways. I have gone through several agents, but was never satisfied with any of them. Agents, and publishers, are looking for the million-dollar author, and struggling authors are not going to fare well with the big boys. I’m too old to let my book sit in a drawer with one of them for two years, only to be told I’m getting peanuts, if they do take me on. I’ve been treated good by a few, and treated badly by many. I don’t need money, but I do want to see my books read, so why not self-publish? I think it’s up to the author which way s/he wishes to go. I do think if the author wants to be a professional writer, and make a name for themselves, they should at least make the effort to see if they can be picked up by the Big Six, or at least the mid-list publishers. If they are like me, give the little publisher a chance, or self-publish. No big deal. On a side note, I got angry when I saw that one of my $16.95 books was only making 35 cents for me every time it sold. I knew I could do better than that. Good luck JoAnna, it is a dog-eat-world out there.

  • Sorry. I forgot to mention, on Kindle I make 35 cents on the dollar on some books. On others I make 70 cents on the dollar. I do my own promotion, and I’m in control. So it works for me. May not be for everyone, though. Now back to your regular scheduled programing (G).

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