By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From July 5, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin
Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.
“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” —Elizabeth Eslami
American communities cheer the Russians’ defeat of Napoleon’s Grande Armée each year in outdoor pops extravaganzas on the Fourth. That’s Tchaikovsky’s cannon-and-chimes 1812 Overture (Op. 49) still rivaling Sousa in our ears.
So it’s not that surprising that We, the Creatives, can bring a certain mercurial — none dares call us self-centered — charm to our observations of Independence Day, is it?
Thus, you’ll find that several commentators in the field this week have mentioned our authors’ “freedom” and “independence” as being worthy of a good Roman candle and a match.
One strong example of this comes from the Kill Zone. Sorry about that group-blog name, it’s the genre-gnawing noir-dark-alley-blog-home of several accomplished suspense and thriller writers. As far as I know, they’ve had not one homicide there. Yet.
One Kill Zone member we know well here on the Ether is our good friend James Scott Bell.
Today we have more freedom to choose where to publish our work. We used to be confined to the mega New York publishing houses.
Here’s what it means to choose the self-publishing path: Besides writing and marketing our own works, we have to outsource to editors, cover designers, and formatters. We have to collect the income from various distributors and formulate our own spreadsheets. And don’t forget buying ISBNs, determining a name for our publishing “company”, and registering for copyright.
With freedom comes greater responsibility, and we’re feeling that as indie authors.
If not quite our own private Huis Clos, Cohen brings us to…shall we say, the ties that bind us.
These are tough choices, but at least we have them. It’s more than we could do several years ago. Now there’s always the possibility that our work will make it into the hands of readers one way or another. Isn’t that a reason to celebrate?
Well, hm, somehow, I don’t find myself jumping into the conga line on the strength of that “possibility…one way or another,” no. But I salute Cohen for just that — for posing it as a question instead of as a truth we all feel ready to hold self-evident.
Let’s explore an author’s freedom in the next section, also, as we look at a call to arms from a good colleague in the Colonies’ libraries.
If libraries could mount a campaign directly at authors and agents, it could help broaden access to (e)books. Librarians could raise awareness that an author should “Say yes to your library!” and write into their contracts the requirement that their (e)book be available in the library market without onerous limitations.
I’m not recalling many times I’ve heard an author suggest that anyone “Say no to your library.”
Here on the holy Ether, this is preaching to the perverted.
But Peter Brantley, in his post at Publishers Weekly’s PWxyz blog — Authors: say yes to libraries! – is working, in part, in response to the news of the Smashwords deal with California’s Califa libraries. As we covered in the last Ether, that arrangement has a clause that will allow library patrons to publish their own books and offer them up as library ebooks.
While there seem to be glimmers of hope in a couple of limited pilot programs, the major publishing houses are still holding out from allowing their front list ebooks to be borrowed by library patrons.
“The big New York publishers are treating libraries like second-class citizens, so I see this as a real exciting opportunity for indie authors to move in and serve the needs of libraries.”
You get the spirit of the idea right away, of course. A big heart is at work here.
And on the face of it? Well sure, a lot of authors might love to sit down with a fire-breathing Big Sixer and say, “No, buddy, I’m not signing my name to this lunch tab or your little contract until you grant me the right to put this ebook into libraries.”
But when I asked agents about this?
Well, first they ran out of the room. One issue I’m running into from time to time is that members of the community don’t feel they can speak honestly on the record. This is especially true of agents, who worry that if they honk off any publishers with a comment, they could end up being less able to get what their author-clients need.
While I understand the fear — and regret the paranoia — I think it’s a mistake to speak off the record. Normally I wouldn’t carry such comments, but in this case, I went to the people I asked, and I can vouch for their authenticity.
(Even more frustrating are pundits who won’t reveal even to media people who they are, and yet expect us to carry their quotes. In those cases, the ones in which someone hides completely behind a pseudonym or other disguise, I refuse to quote. If I can’t vouch for who my source is, that person is no source of mine.)
One agent told me:
While this might be a viable and interesting option for authors when re-selling back-list or self publishing, traditional front list publishing contracts for authors without massive leverage would not be viable in my opinion.
One agent who is always generous and up-front with authors — no stranger to Ethernauts here — is Rachelle Gardner.
When I put the question to her, she pointed out that going into contract negotiations with the hard restrictions of some rights already tied up is never smart:
And is it worth giving up a publishing contract? No.
One publisher weighed in, too, again on condition of anonymity, but echoing what these and other agents told me: only a “very attractive, proven” author could be expected to prevail on this in a contract negotiation.
So while the idea of Smashwords’ arrangement with the Califa libraries might have inspired Brantley’s post, the folks I spoke to kept going back to the fact that Smashwords is a self-publishing service, not a traditional publisher.
The idea of facilitating library availability can make us feel all warm and fuzzy, sure. But do we know that librarians are ready for, as Coker puts it, “indie authors to move in and serve the needs of libraries.” Would a lot of DIY work from debut authors serve those libraries’ needs?
Even if writing things into contracts made sense for traditionally published authors, it might be worth finding out first whether libraries are ready to “say yes to self-publishing authors” they’ve never heard of before.