Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Weird World of Publishing.

Publishing somewhere along the way became a really weird and abusive undertaking. There was a time when a publisher would think enough of a book to buy it. That is, to give the author an advance for the right to publish the work. That expense undertaken, the publisher would then advertise the book and begin to promote the work--better to earn back that advance and ensure that the author could share in the profits made and to have the leisure to produce more art.

But somewhere along the way things changed. In the later 1980s some of my friends who were then known as "mid-list" authors began to complain to me that two things were happening. First, that their advances were getting smaller (few of them could continue to full-time as writers and had to begin taking day-jobs), and the publishers not only weren't promoting their novels, they were expecting the authors to advertise and promote their books out of their own pockets! That is, it was becoming understood that the advances they were getting were not for the author's housing and food and upkeep, but for buying ads and investing in book tours.

This was the world I encountered when I began to sell novels. I was supposed to spend my advance money on advertising the publisher's book for them, and to provide my own transportation and pay my own expenses in any book tour I wished to undertake. Fuck that.

Why did this happen? I'm not sure. All I know is that it did happen.

Many authors were forced to flee first to the small presses and then to self-publishing. But all this did was make the situation worse. The folk who faded to the small presses found themselves in at least as bad a situation as before, or a worse one. And only the self-publishers who are good at being shills and liars do well--that is, they're good used car salesmen, but lousy writers (which is why I don't read many self-published books).

Alas, I made my own way into the world of publishing as the house began to creak and break apart. I was paid decent advances on a few occasions but never saw my works advertised by any of the publishers with whom I worked (except for, ironically, Marvel Comics). I had the misfortune of getting my foot in the door of an industry that was fading away. When that door was finally opened to admit me, I looked inside and saw that the place was in the midst of a four-alarm fire.

A couple of my writer pals have given up. They've carefully put the notebooks away in the back of a drawer in their desk and folded up their laptops for the last time. I talk to these folk every once in a while. They speak about the good days and don't even think about the industry as it now exists. They claim not to write anymore. I don't challenge them on this, but hope it's not true.

THE FLOCK, from Tor-Forge. Written by me. Promoted exclusively by me. Optioned from time to time by people who want to make it into a feature film.


dogboy443 said...

Truly sad...the same can be said for the comic book business. If you are self-publishing which is far more easier nowadays, then you are the one shucking and jiving and driving here and promoting there and spending bucket loads of money for an 8ft table at a con that after traveling and lodging and food, you come home, maybe, with your table covered. Maybe. But we keep creating, all depending if you can find those few people that will plunk down $4 fro your book.

James Robert Smith said...

Yeah, I need to do a blog post about why I have always supported self-publishing comic book creators when I don't do the same for self-published writers.

Comic book artist/writers have been among the most abused and enslaved of all creators in publishing. Their work is largely ignored, and when it is popular, it is almost always stolen from them.

It has been a very sad and depressing turn of events to see mainstream book publishers reduced to this state of operations. When THE FLOCK came out I was willing to travel just about anywhere to promote it--but I was told in no uncertain terms that Tor Books would not pay a dime for transportation and other expenses.