Why I Left My Publisher in Order to Publish a Book


25 Responses to “Why I Left My Publisher in Order to Publish a Book”

  1. enkiv2 says:

    If I recall, Cory managed to become a big(ger) name as an author because of his creative commons releases. Perhaps I’m mixing up the chronology, but I got the impression that the release of _Down_and_Out_in_the_Magic_Kingdom_ gave him the reputation as a novelist rather than having its success attributable to it. At the very least, if someone is familiar with good work that you’ve put out free, they know that your self-published for-money stuff is unlikely to be a total loss. That said, Cory is not a particularly good example (seeing as how by that point he was already involved with BoingBoing, if I have my chronology right).

    As an anecdotal thing, I have (for a while) been listening almost exclusively to the creative commons / art libre music on Jamendo. The only music I’ve bought in years has been the stuff that I’ve either listened to on band websites or pirated first, because I got a little sick of buying a cd based on a single song on the radio and having the rest of the album be disappointing. I’m far more willing to buy when I know there’s quality behind something, and people are more likely to know that something has quality when they get some significant part of the document free. Whether or not this makes economic sense to any given creator is a question of individual circumstance, but it constitutes an alternative to existing fame.

    • IWood says:

      Down and Out [...] was published in paper- and hardback by Tor books in 2003, and concurrent with that, Cory released the complete text for free on his website via a Creative Commons license. So, although you could get an electronic version of it for free, it was published by a major house and thus had whatever benefits were provided by such publication. The CC licensed release and the publicity surrounding it–much of it on BoingBoing–helped drive sales of the physical book. So it wasn’t really a self-published effort.

      That said, what Doug is talking about isn’t self-publishing, either. O/R Books is a publisher, and Doug’s not doing this by himself. He’s doing it with a small, independent publisher that’s avoiding traditional publishing channels and methods.

  2. micheleweldon says:

    With 12 books you know way more about this than I do, with only 3 out, and another in the begging mode by an agent. I do give writing workshops for hopeful authors and tell everyone not to self-publish. I say it is the difference between drunk karaoke and a U2 concert. Am I wrong? I agree with everything you said, but still, how can you not go big house and still differentiate yourself from the self-published memoirs with all the exclamation points?

    • SpeedRacer says:

      I think that is the part of the new market nobody has figured out. Not so much about the differentiation, but how to get the PR and get your book in front of the readers. This is true with a lot of other markets now, like music.

      I also don’t know how much value the big houses provide in that field. As near as I can tell, they each want the next Big Book (Twilight, Harry Potter, whatever) but they have no interest in helping the unknown author who will write the book. Which means they only want to generate the PR for the authors who are already successful and don’t need the PR.

      But this could also be the bitter ramblings of somebody who has tried for several years to get a book published and can’t even find an agent that is willing to read it. Yes, I know. You redirect route the obviouse snarky comments to /dev/null. It isn’t my book, it isn’t my usual kind of reading material and I thought it was an excellent read.

      • agnot says:

        I think that is the part of the new market nobody has figured out.

        Which, in turn, I think is part of a new environ that I have only partly figured out.

        I have had to relearn how to talk (socially) in staccato with sensational leads and partial sentences, if I want anyone 10 years my junior to listen.

        I don’t enjoy it. Don’t think my points get made. Maybe I need to get in front of listeners.

    • John Oakes says:

      OR Books is not in any way, shape or form a self-publisher: we select our books from authors or agents–or we originate them. Check out our site. The main difference between us and a traditional publisher is that we do not distribute through stores, if we can help it–including Amazon–we sell direct, and then license to a traditional publisher, which has the joy of dealing with stores.

      (from OR Books’ co-publisher)

    • jeremyhogan says:

      I think there are more layers to self-publishing than that, just as there are many layers in talent and commercial viability between drunken karaoke and U2. Not all self-published work is trash. Not all non-U2 music acts are drunken karaoke artists.

      I think your point would be more accurate to say that self-publishing is as easy as drunken karaoke and that the trouble is that you will have to find your way above the noise.

  3. Olly McPherson says:

    It’s a lot easier for established authors to get by without corporate pr and marketing. That’s a different skill set from writing, and one that many authors may not find themselves competent at. (I’m not, unfortunately.)

    I think a lot of the enthusiasm about non-corporate publishing mirrors the home recording revolution. Sure, it’s a lot easier to produce, but don’t be surprised when no one reads it.

  4. BookGuy says:

    “This is why it is failing. Publishing is a sustainable business, not a growth industry. So it needs to be run by people looking for sustainable projects and careers–not runaway profits.”

    There are other reasons traditional publishing is failing, but I still nodded my head vigorously at this. I work in educational publishing, and I’ve been through a few mergers and acquisitions at this point. The investors come in, buy the company, and then are mystified why they can’t increase business by 10% a year indefinitely. They scratch their heads, usually lay a bunch of us off, and then dump the now severely talent-deficient company and go on their merry ways. It boggles my mind how they don’t understand this: Schools have limited budgets. They do not buy new books every year. They couldn’t afford to if they wanted to. If they can’t buy new books, they don’t want to buy a bunch of other doodahs and crappy add ons. We could sell a math book for every single student in the U.S., but then the next quarter they’d come back “disappointed” at the fact that the company didn’t manage to sell two math books to every student in the U.S. It’s madness. It hurts publishing, and in the case of educational publishing, it hurts out kids. I’m probably not long for the industry. I need to find a way to make good books (or eBooks) and sleep at night, and that doesn’t involve listening to some MBAtard blather on about six sigmas.

    Sorry. I’m a sad and bitter person at this point.

    • Beelzebuddy says:

      Sorry. I’m a sad and bitter person at this point.

      But your dreams and hopeless idealism were delicious.

    • agnot says:

      Sorry. I’m a sad and bitter person at this point.

      Hallelujah! At least you’re not deluded.

    • bmcraec says:

      Booktard, don’t feel alone in your despair. MBAtards have always existed, and they always come in to something that probably works reasonably well, and because they only know plans, strategies and analytics they have no idea how to make anything. The reason why this is so very obvious in the book publishing world has been well stated, but there’s one other thing that hits home for me. I know books, loved them from the earliest age, and eventually learned enough about the business of creating and selling them that I have spent the better part of my adult life working in some aspect of writing/editing/publishing realm. If you don’t care enough about a craft to get to know and appreciate it, you’ll never know how to value it.

      True, it’s nice not to have to hunt for your own work (the main curse of the self-employed) but at least you don’t have to say yes when a client asks for either stupid or impossible.

      • bmcraec says:

        At this time of the evening, proofreading is my nemesis. I was thinking ahead of myself with my first word. I of course meant BookGuy, don’t feel alone…

        The Elseviers & Wileys, HarperCollins, Bertelsman, et al do what big fish do, even though they’re doing it to a craft whose product and process I love and know well. It’s easy to ignore the corporate world-view if you don’t know and don’t care about the products and services.

  5. foobar says:

    So why *not* put it on Amazon? What do you have to lose?

    • IWood says:

      Colin Robinson (a founder of O/R Books) explains why they don’t deal with Amazon here: The Trouble With Amazon.

      Personally, I think that refusing to deal with the largest book retailer on the planet is a mistake, but I’m following the O/R experiment closely to see if I’m proven wrong.

    • John Oakes says:

      Several things. First off, Amazon demands a huge discount from publishers–and therefore authors make less, as well, since publishers pay authors in part based on how big a discount they are obliged to give. Secondly, by selling to Amazon we reduce the likelihood of licensing our books to a traditional publisher. (See my reply to the comments above.)

      (from OR Books’ co-publisher)

  6. querent says:

    MBAtard has entered my lexicon.

  7. Anonymous says:

    J.A. Konrath has done pretty well by publishing on Amazon. If you are considering ebook publishing at all, you should take a look at some of his blog posts. Based on his figures, it seems that Kindle is one of the platforms with the biggest audience and most sales:


  8. Ginny says:

    Here’s a great article on the benefits of self-publishing.


  9. blily says:

    I worked in book publishing (several of the “big 6″) for many years and read these kinds of posts and comments with a sigh.

    Total, unempirical, fact-free speculation that would get you laughed off BoingBoing if applied to anything scientific is accepted pretty much unchallenged with regard to the workings of businesses (especially content-publication) simply because it *seems* right, or confirms some *feeling* the reader has about the way things work. The attitude toward content-publication business is actually not dissimilar to the tea party attitude toward the government. Lots of angst and paranoia and speculation, not a lot of actual experience or understanding.

    I mean, sure — it *makes sense* that a publicist who devotes a bunch of time to booking something for a small author would be encouraged to book national TV for a celebrity instead.

    That just doesn’t actually happen.

    Celebrities tend to book themselves (figuratively) or have a non-book-related personal publicity team on hand to do that. Or refuse to do publicity at all because their packed tour/TV/whatever schedules won’t permit them to take a week off for publicity.

    Moreover it’s a lot more prestigious for a publicist to “make” a small book with limited sales-expectations into a hit via great publicity that she, through sheer power of persuasiveness, has managed to pull together.

    But most importantly– book publishing companies are filled with book lovers. English majors who moved to NY, interviewed for weeks or months and accepted extremely modest starting salaries for the privilege of getting to work with books and authors. Even the “executives with their balance sheets” love books, and they love it even more when books bought for relatively modest advances recoup those costs and turn the balance sheets black with an author spot on NPR or a review in the Times.

    Similarly: “The corporate book industry can’t grow at the rate required by publicly held companies, anyway. This is why it is failing. Publishing is a sustainable business, not a growth industry. So it needs to be run by people looking for sustainable projects and careers–not runaway profits.” I mean, again, that seems difficult to argue with. Makes sense, seems true.

    Except, again, it isn’t. Because looking only at the “big 6″ — the most corporate of corporate publishing houses –there’s not a single example of a company that has been shuttered for insufficient growth. Viacom (first Marshall’s then Gulf&Western then Paramount until Viacom bought it) has owned Simon & Schuster for about 26 years now. Newscorp has owned HarperCollins for about 23 years. Other publishing houses like Penguin are actually owned by Pearson which is itself a publishing company and not likely to be shocked by the performance of a book publishing business anytime soon.

    Those were the first two examples I saw, and there’s frankly an even broader argument to be made for getting your information and feelings about publishing from people it has dissatisfied (like all those editors and publicists who were so “good” they had to be laid off first).

    My point, fundamentally, is that all this huffy speculation about an industry is counterproductive. Book publishing is mostly made up of smart, dedicated, passionate people who love books. It’s not a system that works for everyone, it’s certainly a system that could use some improvement and alternative models.

    But better to spend time researching actual facts & figures, and come up with alternative publishing models that way, than to write fiction about how and why publishing companies operate.

    • bkad says:

      My point, fundamentally, is that all this huffy speculation about an industry is counterproductive. Book publishing is mostly made up of smart, dedicated, passionate people who love books. It’s not a system that works for everyone, it’s certainly a system that could use some improvement and alternative models.

      Thanks for your post, blily. I can’t say first hand whether what you claim is true, but it does pass the “common sense test” and it debunks a conspiracy of evil/talentless businessmen trying to keep people down — a conspiracy I particularly love to see debunked, partly because it is so popular these days. I think your quote about passionate people doing what they love is true of most industries. People need and want to succeed in business, but people choose their paths based on what they believe. You don’t become a doctor if you don’t want to heal people. You don’t get a humanities degree if you don’t think sharing art and literature with the world is a valuable activity.

  10. Deidzoeb says:

    I’m glad if this works for Rushkoff, but we shouldn’t be too quick to draw a broad lesson from this experience right away. I’m reminded of when Joss Whedon said, “See, I released an episodic superhero musical composed of webisodes outside of the standard tv and studio system, and it was a relatively big success, therefore other people can do it too!” Sure, other people who already have the clout and name-recognition of Joss Whedon can do that, but it doesn’t tell us much about how regular people can break into film-making through the web. (Not that Douglas was implying anything similar. I’m just trying to head it off before people try to draw broad conclusions from a few experiences.)

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’ve self-published (direct publishing) my last five books and will do the same on my upcoming, and any future books. I end up with a much better long term deal than I would with a traditional publisher. I have more control of sales, marketing, etc. The books get to market faster as well. I seem to also have as wide an expanded distribution as I would with a publisher. ~ Allen Harkleroad

  12. jjasper says:

    Luckily for writers, however, the editors, marketers, and publicists booted from the corporate publishing industry are starting up little companies of their own. The corporate book industry can’t grow at the rate required by publicly held companies, anyway. This is why it is failing.

    Small press publishing is an incredible gamble. It’s actually incredibly hard to make money as a small press. Most of them fail, and many small presses are currently hard put to pay their authors on time.

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