For those of you who haven't noticed, there's been a big to-do in the publishing world in the last week or so. But, before that...
It can be difficult to be involved in artistic fields. There's so much angst over whether you're good enough, whether people will like your work, whether people will like you. It creates a huge drive for recognition. Confirmation. Validation. The desire for validation can be... distracting. The desire to be validated, to be told, "yes, you are good," can become the goal rather than doing the art. The need for an agent, for a publisher, more important than doing the writing and just making it available.
This need, this desperate grasp for someone unconnected to you to tell you that you're good, that you do good work, that your writing (art, music, whatever) deserves to be seen can make us do, well, stupid things. It can make us agree to things that our sane, rational minds would have us run away from. But, in that moment, that moment of someone saying to you, "we want you," you can forget to look at the situation and, instead, just say "yes! yes! yes!"
I've kind of lost track of the number of authors I've seen that have signed with some small publisher that said "we want you" but, then, left them to do all the work (editing, cover, marketing) only to keep a large part of any money that was made. And all of that with no advance. But the validation has been so important that many of them don't care. Or they do end up caring and regret the decision to go with the small publisher. It's a hard thing to deal with. And many small publishers count on that. Some of them even demand money from you.
But, then, most of us are at least somewhat aware of vanity presses and know to stay away from them, right? Right? Well, let's just be safe: if any publisher ever asks you for money to publish your book, don't just say "no;" run away as fast as you can, too.
Which brings us to the whole "to-do."
Just recently, Random House has established some new digital-only imprints. These imprints have been designed to take advantage of the new digital era but, from all appearances, at the expense of the author. The imprints seem to be specifically targeting new authors and pre-published authors. Authors who don't know their way around the publishing world. See, the big publishers almost never take unsolicited manuscripts; that means you have to have an agent if you want to get published by someone like Random House. But these new imprints? No agent needed. Anyone can submit to them.
And that one thing is going to be a huge draw for unpublished authors -- the chance to be published by one of the "big 6" without the need of an agent.
And Random House is set up to accept as many takers as possible, because, why?, it's digital only, remember?
You know that saying about when something is too good to be true...?
Yes, there is a catch... actually, there are a lot of them. All of them designed to squeeze the unsuspecting author like a grape.
1. No advance.
2. They charge back to the author all of the production costs. No, you don't have to pay anything up front, but all of the costs of editing, cover design, marketing; it all comes out of the pocket of the author.
3. They get to own your soul. Seriously. They own all rights to your work in every possible format in place you can think of. Well, at least, any place on Earth. They own all licensing options. AND they own the crack at any sequel you may ever write.
4. If your book is successful enough that they decide they want to do a print version of it, you get charged for all of that, too.
The whole thing is horrendous. If you really want to know the whole story, I suggest you read the following posts by John Scalzi, who also happens to be the president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America:
3. The direction?
4. The Letter
5. The Response
6. Why advance are important
7. You have more power than you think
Look, I understand that it can seem a small thing to take terms that don't include an advance or any of these other things when you're trying to get in the door. After all, you're already not making anything, right? What can it hurt, and, at least, this way you have a chance. Right? And with a big publisher, too! But don't let your desperation lead you down the path of foolishness. Don't feed the big parasitic organism that's seeking to drain you of all of your creativity. In the end, it's just not worth it, no matter how "necessary" it may seem at the time. Desperation... it's a dangerous thing.
I strongly suggest that you go read those posts by Scalzi. Yeah, that's a lot of reading, but you'll be glad you did.
Random House, due to the huge outcry against the terms they were offering through these new imprints, has responded by amending the terms they're offering in their contracts. What they're offering is still not great, but it's better than it was. You can read about the changes here and Scalzi's thoughts on them here. Again, this is strongly suggested reading.
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