Who's afraid of self-publishing? #authorsay

Who's afraid of self-publishing? #authorsay

This story was written originally as a walkup to #FutureChat.  Join The Bookseller's FutureBook digital community Fridays for #FutureChat at 4 p.m. London (GMT), 5 p.m. Rome (CET), noon New York (ET), 11 a.m. Chicago (CT), 10 a.m. Denver (MT), 9 a.m. Los Angeles (PT). On 29 March, much of Europe goes to Daylight Saving Time, and the Eastern zone will again be five hours behind London.


'Either neutral or horrified at the thought of taking control'

My favourite line in my good colleague Philip Jones' early look at traditionally publishing authors' responses to the ongoing survey was just that:

When asked about the possibility of self-publishing, only a minority of authors were excited at the prospect, with the majority (75%), either neutral or horrified at the thought of taking control.

#AuthorSay is the hashtag associated with the "Do You Love Your Publisher?" survey of traditionally publishing authors mounted by UK-based author Harry Bingham and US-based publishing analyst Jane Friedman

Whatever we learn about how much authors may or may not love their publishers, it seems a good bet that they're fond of this survey.

At last report from Bingham, more than 630 traditionally authors had weighed in, and we're just reaching the Ides of You Know What, dear Brutus, which is the halfway mark in the survey's life: if you're a traditionally publishing author, you have the rest of this month to make your views known by filling in the survey.

You can learn more about the background of the survey in our FutureBook coverage here

And you can respond to the 32-question survey here until 31 March.

After that, the survey will be closed and The Bookseller will produce exclusive coverage of the results on 10th April, in time for London Author Fair (14-16 April). 

In his write-up, Authors 'more committed to agent than publisher,' Jones brought forward some tantalizing, very early returns that I can bullet for you here. And then I'll offer you a round of commentary culled by Friedman for us from early responses.

Broad satisfaction, yes, but...

Some early glimpses, courtesy of Jones, of input from traditionally publishing writers completing the survey:

  • 75 percent: "either neutral or horrified at the thought of taking control' by self-publishing
  • 33 percent: published by a Big Five publisher
  • 20 percent: published by a "large trade publisher"
  • A majority of early respondents: "had published six or more titles"
  • 50 percent: "had self-published at least one title"
  • 25 percent: "reported that they had 'seriously considered' self-publishing
  • 80 percent: "happy with their cover design"
  • 70 percent: "happy with the copyediting received"
  • 39 percent: "said they would move" to another publisher "if a similar house came along with the same deal"
  • 31 percent: indicated that they would stay with their current publisher if that similar deal were offered by another
  • 45 percent: said they would stay with their current agents if offered a chance to move to another

Those are, remember, aggregated findings from a very early look into the data, thanks to Jones and Bingham. Much more to come. 

And now, let's look at some of the actual comments coming across in the survey. 

'Authors are your life blood...they're not stupid'

The "Do You Love Your Publisher?" survey proposes at one point that traditionally publishing authors imagine they are sending a tweet -- to their publisher, to their agent, to Jeff Bezos. 

With special thanks to Friedman, I want to show you some of the phrases coming across in the survey's early returns. Friedman took care to choose lines "indicative of the overall response so far" rather than isolated yelps.

We'll take them in groups.

What authors say they want to tell their publishers' executive boards

  • Authors are your life blood. Treat them like grown-ups and with respect. They're not stupid.
  • If you put more effort (and a little more $$) behind less well-known authors, they may make you more money.
  • Please hire help for my overworked editor.
  • I couldn't wish for a more committed and enthusiastic team.
  • Don't take on successful self-published authors and ignore their marketing skills.They often know more than your staff.
  • Work with me as a business partner, full and open communication.
  • Wake up and smell the #digital coffee. You created a digital-first imprint so support it!
  • Authors will work hard for those who are working hard for us. Disorganization makes self-pub appealing.
  • Thanks for the beautiful work on my book. I'm honored to be included in your book titles this year.
  • Think long term. Brief shelf life is a thing of the past.
  • Be NICE to the editors. Without them, authors wouldn’t sign with you.
  • Publish [fewer] books and focus on quality control/marketing.
  • I need more insight into sales; an annual royalty statement is not enough.
  • Get rid of DRM and learn how to be smarter and more flexible with ebook promotions.
  • Thank you for twenty-five years of publishing my books and our positive relationship.
  • Treat your authors as partners. Be less secretive about processes.
  • Thank you for you confidence in me and continuing to publish my books.
  • Don't forget that many of your authors talk to each other. Don't think we don't know just because you haven't told us.

What authors say they want to tell their Amazon

  • Dear Amazon Publishing: Please rethink your abandonment of the print market.
  • Truth Time: Do self-pubbed authors get better exposure/search results than trad-pubbed authors?
  • Make all ebook sales 70% royalty regardless of price.
  • Respect your hybrid authors. Don't make it an either/or situation.
  • Keep innovating, but let authors be a part of the process.
  • Stop torturing authors with your sales rankings.
  • Bring back the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest... great for developing writers!
  • You’re incredibly intuitive concerning consumers and suppliers. Please, don't get greedy and mess up a good thing.
  • You're creative, innovative and smart, but don't kill the pub goose.
  • If you screw over authors, you're no better than the Big Five.
  • If you put the squeeze on authors to help you turn a profit, it will end poorly.
  • It's been a pleasure working with you under one of your imprints. Let's keep the awesomeness going.
  • I don't trust you to always treat me well. (Darth Vader to Lando: "Pray I don't alter the deal.")
  • You have fantastic service and total power - please be kinder to those that you deal with.

What authors say they want to tell their agents

Friedman notes here, "There are about a million variations of 'Respond to my emails!'" in this section. 

In addition:

  • Is that traditional book deal the best for ME? ... Or for you?
  • You are wonderful and I would have been lost without you.
  • Thank you for working so hard on my behalf. But please stop talking about your more successful clients.
  • Thanks for the support, but I wish you'd flexed your muscle a little more once the book was out
  • Move the office to Brooklyn, you'll save money.
  • Beware of conflicts of interest. Get angry. Push for higher royalties and licensing deals.
  • You've changed my career path and I love you for it!
  • Be more open-minded to taking hybrid authors and helping them as well as traditional.
  • Thanks for your forward-thinking focus, and for not abandoning a troubled and unproductive author.
  • Stop pressuring authors to give so much time to social media. It eats up precious time and kills creativity.
  • Thanks for fighting my corner for me, and steering my career so well.
  • Please try harder to sell secondary rights. Or tell me what I can do.
  • I trust you, you are my rock within the ever-changing industry.
  • Try and remember your smaller fish!

What you say #authorsay

After years of embittered, counter-productive divisions in the author corps, there seem to be signs of hostilities easing. Perhaps the angrier authors see less threat in the "other pathway to publishing" from their own, now that the two modes have coexisted for a time. Or maybe the screamers have just worn themselves out -- along with those of us who had to listen to them.

One thing we know is that we've never heard as much from the traditionally publishing side of the author camp as we have from the insurgency, the self-publishing sector. And this is why the Bingham-Friedman survey is so welcome. 

Based on what we're getting from it so far, what do you think might make traditionally publishing authors feel less "horrified" at the prospect of a self-publishing venture?


Remember that US times will be different (until 29 March) for The Bookseller's FutureBook digital community's #FutureChat on Fridays: 4 p.m. London (GMT), 5 p.m. Rome (CET), noon New York (ET), 11 a.m. Chicago (CT), 10 a.m. Denver (MT), 9 a.m. Los Angeles (PT).

Main image - Shutterstock: Chuck Wagner