Wednesday, July 24, 2013
What do hybrid authors want?
by Sandra Parshall
Hybrid seems the way for writers to go these days, and I’ll admit I feel like a dinosaur because I haven’t made the jump yet.
A hybrid author is one who publishes traditionally but has also self-published original work. Some, like Amanda Hocking, became successful by self-publishing after traditional publishing houses rejected their work, then used their solo success to secure lucrative traditional book deals. Others, like the phenomenal Sylvia Day, started in traditional publishing, moved to self-publishing, and now does both.
Hybrid authors are savvy about both types of publishing, and many have negative opinions of print publishers. They know what their choices are, and the most successful among them are skilled at marketing. They tend to make more money — often far more — from self-publishing than from their traditionally produced and marketed books.
So why are they still willing to take the print route with some of their work, and what does a traditional publisher have to do to hold onto them?
A new Digital Book World/Writer’s Digest report offers insights that might make traditional publishers more than a little nervous. The report, for sale through the DBW website, is the result of a 20-question survey of 121 successful hybrid authors, followed up by 17 in-depth interviews. Although I can’t quote from it directly, I’ll summarize it, and you can decide whether you want to pay to read it in full.
The major complaints about print publishers won’t surprise anybody:
*Writers are not respected as partners in the process.
*The author has virtually no creative control. The person who spent a year or more pouring her/his heart and soul into writing the book loses control of it when a publisher takes over.
*Communication between publisher and writer is poor.
*Getting a book to market takes too long (a year, 18 months, or more is typical).
*Royalties for the writer, including digital edition royalties, are too low.
*Few books receive marketing support and promotion.
*Publishers are afraid to take chances on new writers and fresh ideas.
*Publishers claim all rights and hold onto them for many years, cutting off the possibility of additional income for the author. (Writers cheered when Hugh Howey, author of the e-book phenomenon known as Wool, sold Simon & Schuster the U.S. print rights only and held onto everything else.)
Writers recognize that traditional publishing has some benefits. A printed book from a reputable publisher remains a more prestigious product and is easier to get into bookstores and libraries. Major publishers can distribute a book widely (although many small publishers can’t get their books into stores and rely mainly on library and internet sales). Traditionally published books are reviewed in industry periodicals. All the tedium of production is handled by the publisher.
However, the lack of adequate marketing support from their print publishers is a major sore point for authors. The books that are expected to become bestsellers are heavily promoted, but beyond the mailing of review copies, promotion for the great majority of books is left entirely to the authors. If a book doesn’t sell, the writer is held responsible and may be dropped by the publisher.
Creative control was by far the biggest factor cited when the surveyed authors were asked why they want to self-publish their next books. Ease and speed of the process was second, and money came in a distant third.
A side note: Established writers I know personally or online through writers’ groups are enthusiastic about reclaiming the rights to their out-of-print novels and self-publishing them. Some have had to fight to wrest their rights from publishers that want to hold onto them and put out their own e-book editions. Writers love the freedom of being able to redesign a book and give it a fresh and often more attractive cover. (Covers are usually designed by people who have not read the books, and authors have little or no input. Sometimes a great cover results, sometimes not. Ask any group of writers if they’ve ever had a cover so bad that it embarrassed them, and the floodgates will open.)
Many excellent, inexpensive services now exist for preparing e-books for publication and designing covers. The DBW/WD survey also delved into the reasons why writers choose one service over another and what additions they would like to see, such as distribution of printed copies, establishment of major awards for self-published books, and marketing services.
The surveyed authors were also asked about the role, if any, agents play in their careers. Many say they no longer use agents, or have never used them. Some agents have created side businesses for handling the e-book publication of clients’ works, and some have set up their own e-publishing companies (violating the bylaws of the Association of Author’s Representatives). The overwhelming majority of authors, though, feel an agent is no longer necessary. If they need someone to negotiate a print contract for them, they would rather pay a lawyer a one-time fee than commit to paying an agency’s commission forever.
One part of the report, an enlightening interview with Romance Writers of America president Sylvia Day, is available free on the Digital Book World website. Day says she started self-publishing because she was dissatisfied with the way traditional publishing works — the slowness of it, the low royalties, the paychecks that arrived only twice a year. She says she can live comfortably on her self-publishing income. When traditional publishing companies in the U.S. and abroad wanted her sensational Crossfire e-book series, she hired a new agent to make sure she got the advance and royalty she wanted from Penguin, plus some control of the packaging and pricing. She says it took a month for Penguin’s representatives to “wrap their heads around the notion” that they weren’t competing with another publisher but with Day’s self-publishing experience. In the end, agreement was reached on a print deal.
Day believes the world needs the publishing industry, but she still loves self-publishing. The main reason: Readers are entirely in control, choosing the books that will be successful, without publishers telling them what they should be reading. A lot of successful self-published books, she points out, were rejected by numerous publishers who believed they would never find an audience.