Recently, I’ve had cause to examine my professional standing, and consider exactly where I fit in the writing/publishing/ bookselling hierarchy. It’s a problem for me for a variety of reasons.
You see, I’m an author. I’ve been published in magazines, online, newspapers, in anthologies, and I self-published two novels. (I mean real self-publishing, where you buy your own ISBNs, set up the relationship with the printer and distributors, do your own typesetting, etc.) I teach creative writing online and at the local arts center.
In the process, though, I also built a publishing company. It now has a couple of imprints, and other than my own two books, I’ve published a number of anthologies, a couple of other folks’ novels, a couple of books of poetry, a book of plays, and a few non-fiction books. I pay royalties, by the way, even though I mostly use Print-on-demand printing.
At another point late last year, I got the idea to start a new endeavor, an online bookstore. I sell print books and ebooks there from a number of publishers.
At this point, I argue with myself a lot. Think about it: for some reason, a default adversarial relationship has somehow been defined as the relationship between authors and publishers, as well as between booksellers and publishers. For example:
“Publishers are bloodsuckers! They take all your hard work and make tons of money, and what do you get? Almost NOTHING!! And they want ME to promote my own book. Heck, I wrote the thing—isn’t that enough?” (Frustrated author)
“Authors are lazy primadonnas who aren’t willing to work with the editor, who think their every word is precious and can’t be changed! And don’t they realize that, in this competitive marketplace and economy, I can’t afford to promote them as much as they would like?” (Aggravated publisher)
“Publishers aren’t willing to give me the discounts I need or accept returns for up to a year after the book goes out of print! They’re taking bread out of the mouths of my children!” (Despairing bookseller)
“How am I supposed to pay royalties, the power bill, the phone bill, and promotional considerations, if the bookseller wants such a huge discount? And why do they return books that look like they were used as puppy toys??” (Furious publisher)
“How dare a publisher even call itself a legitimate publisher if they don’t print at least 1,000 copies in the first run, and pay at least a $1,000 advance?” (Elitist writer’s organization)
“How can a writer’s organization ignore the economics of reality, that says in the long run it costs more and can put a small publisher out of business, if they only use old-fashioned printing methods that are ecologically unsound and wasteful of both money and resources?” (Dumbfounded publishers AND authors)
It’s strange, really. I get into internal debates all the time! And for that matter, which professional organization(s) should I join? I am an author, but when I go to some professional writer organizations’ websites, it’s like there is this big “Them versus US!” mindset. I wonder: would I be considered an US or a THEM? Would I be found out, and considered a fifth column publisher, secretly learning all the author secrets so I can go back and… do what??
For a while I was a member of an organization that was supposed to be focused on independently-published authors. What does that mean, exactly? It’s sort of vague, right? Does that mean the author’s publisher is an independent, not associated with one of the big publishing conglomerates that control three-quarters of the book sales revenue in the U.S.? Does it mean that the book was vanity published or subsidy published? Or does it mean that the author actually self-published the book, starting their own small press, buying their own ISBN(s), etc.? While I was a member, once or twice I spoke up about some issues (I’m against paid reviews, for example, and I believe an author should have a professional editor work on the manuscript before it is published). When I did I was snubbed and treated like a pariah dog. You see, I am not only an author, but a commercial publisher, and sometimes I (ye gads!) reject a manuscript! How dare I do that!
And of course, publishing organizations are generally focused on a lot of issues that are not that germane to the kind of publishing I do. There is one I belong to, which shall remain nameless, that in the last year or two has seemed to morph into an organization primarily for self-published authors. While I understand and can respect a well-considered decision to self-publish, that’s not my main consideration. Another publisher organization I have investigated focuses primarily on non-fiction and how-to books—which is not my company’s area.
Because I have an online bookstore and live in Georgia, should I join the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA)? Would it really help me, or would it be just one more organization that drains membership funds from me, that I could put to better use paying for promotional pieces or extra ARCs? According to their website, they are for “independent, privately held, brick & mortar, commercially zoned bookstores with a retail storefront, in our region.” That lets me out. But then again, I know some authors who are members of SIBA, and they don’t have any sort of bookstore!
I dunno. Maybe I need therapy. Is it possible to have multiple-profession-disorder?