Saturday, August 11, 2012

Control Issues

Okay, I'll admit it. I like to get my way. Who doesn't? But one thing that really bugs me is when authors lose creative control over their books.

I understand the need for editing and marketing to do their thing. The bottom line is in everyone's best interests...including the author's. Not only is it nice to receive a big, fat royalty check, but it can impact whether or not the author gets another contract...ever!  

I attended a PAN (published author's network) gathering at a conference a year and a half ago. (This was before the self-publishing boom.) Well known mid-list authors were discouraged because they weren't getting contracts due to declining sales. I walked out of that room so ambivalent! On one hand, I was scared for my future; on the other, I was quietly thanking my lucky stars that I did have a contract. And since then I landed another one. No, I'm not 'that special'. I just happen to write a popular genre with a welcome twist--humorous paranormal romance.

Now, those of you who follow this blog know I tend to shoot from the hip. In other words, I talk about whatever is on my mind at the moment. At this moment I'm struggling with control issues. I hate being told to put up and shut up (essentially. No professional would put it that way.) But you'd be surprised how many authors are faced with that 'essential' choice when they've signed their rights over to someone else.  

 Rights is the operative word. When you sell them, you don't have them anymore. If you're lucky, your publisher will allow you to have input. Mine does. That doesn't mean I'll get my way. What happens if I don't? Do I have any options at all? Sure. I can throw a temper tantrum. (SO not professional, and probably worse than useless.) I can refuse to promote a product I'm not proud of. (Again, not in anyone's best interests.) And the only other thing I can think of is to be assertive and hope my concerns will be heard.

Did you know I flunked assertiveness training? LOL. Well, I did. Twice! As a psych nurse, I needed that skill, so I persisted until I got it. I find it's useful in many areas of life. No tantrums. Just voicing legitimate concerns over and over again until the other party really understands them. Hopefully, at that point they're not too stubborn to back down. Unfortunately, if an author has sold their rights, they can assert themselves until they run out of words (that's a long, long time in writerly terms) and they might still lose the battle. Sigh.

I've never self-published. I'm not secure enough in my ancillary skills to go it alone. But these days great editors and cover artists can be hired to do the things the author isn't good at.And yet, publishers are still needed for that all important final step in the process--distribution in brick and mortar stores.

How do you feel about self-publishing? As authors, is it an attractive alternative? Why?
As readers, do you trust a traditionally published product more than a self-published author? Have you been burned by poorly edited self-published books? How much control do you think an author should have?


Cynthia Sax said...

Self-publishing isn't a viable option for me. I write some quirky stories and I can't judge my own work. At all. I need someone who knows to give my stories the thumbs up or thumbs down.

I'm also still learning and my editors are the best source of knowledge. They've edited thousands of books. They know what works, what doesn't, and why. They have solutions if a story doesn't work. They have access to industry trends (by networking with other editors, other publishers) that I don't.

Stephanie Queen said...

Cindy, you've hit on a gigantic hot spot that has helped convince many writers, including those already traditionally published, to jump into Indie Publishing.

Creative control is so important--from story to cover design--to many authors that they've ranked this over the 70% royalties and monthly pay checks as the top reason that they are indie publishing their novels.

As you pointed out, editing services can be purchased--and from seasoned professionals who have publishing house experience, as well as phenomenal cover design and formatting pros to take care of the technical aspects. Of course all authors except the biggest stars must invest in their own marketing efforts.

You're also right that the one area remaining largely closed to indie published books is brick and mortar sales. But for so many of them--and the list gets longer--because the royalty rate is so high, they can make a living with their on-line sales far beyond what they would make as a mid-list author and with far fewer overall sales!

So, I guess the wonderful position authors find themselves in these days is having a CHOICE!
I think that's fabulous for all of us (although publishers don't seem to like it too much--teehee!)

Stephanie Queen

KJ Montgomery/ said...

I am just starting the "shop my book" foray. I have vowed to not go crazy and submit to everyone and their brother/sister. If I am unable to garner a publishing contract, then I will probably self-publish.

The biggest issue I have and may have to overcome if I'm offered a contract is surrendering my rights. I am truly reticent to hand over control regardless of the professional experience involved.

I guess, based on the last paragraph I am subconsciously prepping for self-publishing.

Best Wishes to everyone in their journeys!

KJ Montgomery

Wynter Daniels said...

Creative control is one of the reasons I've chosen both options - I traditionally publish with several publishers and I self-pub. But honestly, my biggest reason for continuing to put out self-published books is the money - which is way more than I make on my other books.

Lynne Connolly said...

Where self publishing is really useful? When you've had the rights back to a book. We all know that backlist is one of the vital components of an author's career digitally, so a book that is edited and ready to go lying on your computer doing nothing is dead.
So why not buy new cover art and get that sucker back online?
For new books, I'm not so sure. I appreciate a good, hard edit. Do you get that from an editor you hired? One who might not like your book or your style? An editor at a publishing house generally wants to edit your books, is already in for the long haul.
And the other reason? Most self published books are dreck.

Erin Simone said...

I am a very assertive female and definitely do not like to be told what to do. Having a editor tear your book apart is humbling and I had to take out whole sections from my last novel which I guess was good because the book was to freaken long. Love your shoot from the hip approach. It's how I blog. Good topic. LOL, Erin Simone, Author

Ashlyn Chase said...

Thanks so much for sharing your honest opinions. Cynthia, you and I are in the same boat. Because what I write is different, an editor or agent who gets me is worth zillions. I'm not a good judge of my own work either and it's helpful to have an LOL or a thumbs down.

Stephanie, I know you've had success self-publishing. It's good to hear those's also sad if you're getting in brick and mortar stores and make less money.

KJ, Good luck shopping your book! Don't let anyone discourage you at this stage of the game. Everyone's experiences are different. And you're smart to do your research and not send your book out willy-nilly.

Wynter, I'm glad you shared your experience from both sides. Maybe sometime we can talk more about it.

Lynne, I paid good money ($7.99) for a self-pubbed book that SO could have used a good editor. I wanted to write to the author and tell her I liked the story and it deserved the professional touch...until I got to the middle and it was so bad I couldn't finish it.

Erin, I usually write short, so having long passages taken out really worries me. At least yours are too long! LOL

Lisabet Sarai said...


One reason I'm really happy with my indie publishers is that I do have a great deal of creative control. For a recent novel, I absolutely hated the draft cover. (It wasn't just me - other authors agreed that it was very poor from a graphics arts perspective as well as a poor reflection of the book). I voiced my concerns to my editor. She put me in touch with the art director, who asked for specific suggestions. I was able to find the images and rough out the layout. The results were fantastic. And nobody felt stepped on - that's the way things work at this publisher.

I haven't yet self-pubbed, mostly because I'd rather put my time into writing than into learning all the nitty gritty details of dealing with the different platforms. However, I might venture in this direction in the future.

Good luck with your own choices.

Doesn't your contract include a termination clause? Your rights are never gone forever...

Mia Marlowe said...

I've got a foot in both worlds. After writing for Dorchester, I learned that it's not wise for a writer to have all her eggs in one basket. That's why I write for Kensington and Sourcebooks and am dabbling in self-publishing to reissue my Dorchester backlist. I've also self-pubbed a couple original enovellas and am considering doing some full length novels as well. The main concern is not violating my traditional publishing contracts. This is a strange time for publishing. Everything is changing at the speed of flying bytes. As long as we writers focus on the important things--getting the story right--it'll all shake out.

Ashlyn Chase said...

Thanks, Mia.

I hope you're right. It can be incredibly confusing for some of us who are afraid to take the plunge.

Casey Crow said...

I think it's good to have your foot in all aspects - at least, that's what I'm trying to do - self-pub, small press, and NY.

Naima Simone said...

Great post, Ash!
I know authors who self-pub as well as publish through traditional houses. I'm pro-choice: An author should always have options. For me, I'm not confident enough to self-pub a new book but would have no problem with doing so with one that I received my rights back on. Once I'm seasoned enough, I believe I will also explore that option. But I don't believe I'm there just yet.