Trigger Warning: If you’re an author and you’ve separated from your publisher (whomever that may be) for reasons that don’t include them bilking you out of your royalties or author copies or deliberately derailing your career as an author (or, because like me, you wanted to see your book IN PRINT), I’m asking the hard (er…nosy) question: WHY?
(The “trigger warning” is there in case this is still a sore subject with you, so you won’t send me anthrax through the mail or some such in revenge for my “confrontational” post.)
Something has been stuck in my craw for several months and I’d like to get it out.
I signed with my publisher, Booktrope, more than 2 years ago. I find myself still happy here. But in those 2 years, other authors – some of whom I consider friends – have decided to leave Booktrope and self-publish. To the best of my knowledge (because this is what some of them gave as their reason), most – if not all – left because of disagreements with their team and/or the management, or because they weren’t selling as many books as they felt they SHOULD be selling. I’ve had both of these issues (not disagreement with management, but with members of my team) at Booktrope, but for me, it’s about the bigger picture: I’m here 1) because I want to see my book(s) in print, 2) to network with readers and other publishing peeps, worldwide 3) learn as much about the publishing world as I can, 4) make enough money to help pay for the gas needed to continue visiting bookstores.
I know something about publishing and self-publishing. I was involved with “desktop” publishing for several years, interned with a publisher for my MA and when I was ready to reveal my book baby to the world, researched self-publishing, while submitting to more than a dozen agents, all of whom rejected my queries, though some offered great advice. While I became good over the years at handling rejection (thanks to years of live theatre auditions, most of which roles went to other auditionees…auditioners?…I digress…), it still isn’t my favorite experience. Especially since I’ve read some of the drivel that’s out there (represented by some of those same agents) and wonder how in the world agents think those authors’ stuff is better than mine! Yes, those books sell, but ONLY because agents’ and publishers’ paychecks (*cough* advances *cough*) are at risk. If those authors had to do their OWN marketing, how popular do you think their books would be compared with our books? And some of OUR books are on International Bestsellers or #1 lists!
My book’s first home was Northampton House Press, a small press started by my mentors. It was ebook only and I had to provide the cover design, something I knew nothing about.
Sure, I can throw images together into a collage, but I’m not a designer. And I knew how I DIDN’T want the cover to look. I was fortunate to find a newbie designer through deviantart.com and we agreed on a fee that was well within my budget. But my book would never see print because I couldn’t afford to pay for print copies and my sales weren’t exceptional enough for NHP to take a chance on print pub. I had to do ALL my own marketing. (WHERE TO START?!) And despite an undergrad background in mass communication (which includes advertising/marketing and working on a university newspaper), I suck at selling myself. Too much anxiety. And I couldn’t afford a publicist. Ironically enough, I have NO problem promoting or selling other authors’ books. Just my own. Go figure.
My contract with NHP allowed me to seek print publication elsewhere, and Booktrope’s hybrid publishing model was my book’s savior. Best of all, I got a cover designer, and book/project manager and my book IN PRINT AT NO UPFRONT COST to me!! I didn’t care that there was no advance with the contract. I’m not in this business to get rich, but because of my love for the written word and a desire to share that love and my words with others. (It’s an ego thing, you see. *shrugs*) I much preferred – and still prefer – the promise of higher royalties weighed against an advance that my book(s) may never earn out. THAT would be a MORE anxiety-ridden scenario for me.
So, I got a beautiful professionally designed cover AND a marketer who knows what she’s doing. SUCH a load off my back! I CAN market myself, but I need guidance and assistance. For all of my smarts, I don’t know everything (*gasp!* I know, right?!) and sometimes suffer from information overload. Tell me to search out ways to market my book(s) and I may miss something or my brain short-circuit because of SO MANY opportunities. HOW DO YOU KNOW which is/are the right one(s)?! I can afford only so much trial and error. Give me an outline of strategies, THAT I can follow, and breathe a sigh of relief. Speaking of which, Gravity Imprint‘s Melissa Flickinger (Book/Project Manager) & Rachel Thompson (Fearless Leader & Marketing Guru) are always quick to inform we in the Gravity realm of marketing opportunities. 🙂 (A little plug here for Rachel’s Marketing Challenge!)
So, knowing the cost of all this stuff, WHY, in the name of all that’s holy, do people WANT to self-pub??!! Do they dislike Booktrope THAT much?? Yes, as a self-published author you have almost limitless freedom, but Booktrope’s hybrid model in which you get to PICK your own book/project manager, editor, proofreader and cover designer (unless you’re part of an imprint like Gravity, then you have a shortlist to choose from – but it’s an awesome shortlist!), and you don’t have to worry about their fees BECAUSE THEY GET PAID IN ROYALTIES. Please tell me, where are you going to find a better deal than this? Yes, I offer freelance editing, and several current and former Booktropians have hired me on the side. I have NO problem with this, as it’s extra – ADVANCE!! – mulah in my pocket. But again I ask you, WHY?
As an author, I’m on my 2nd editor, my 2nd BM/PM, and have been through 3 cover designers (at least one who quit without so much as a by-your-leave). And I knew NOTHING going in, other than this awesome publisher was – somehow – going to help me realize my dream of seeing my manuscript in print. I learned as I went and gladly share my knowledge with other newbie authors. When I’ve had an issue with someone – either on my own team or as an editor/proofreader on another author’s team – we’ve either worked it out, or I’ve left the team once the project was finished (I’ve only done this once in 2 years). NOTHING has happened to induce such anxiety and depression that I would choose to leave Booktrope entirely. The management has always been helpful and supportive of/for/to me.
And you know what? I don’t plan to leave Booktrope. Ever. You guys are stuck with me. I’m going to be like white (er…or brown) on rice. Like feathers on birds, and
armpit hair…maybe not that one…well, you get the picture. This company is THE BOMB! and has been awesome (I think I use that word too much…) to and for me. My editor resume is growing, my Twitter feed has exploded, my blog and review portfolios are gaining momentum, I’ve made great friends and contacts, I’m part of a kickin’ imprint (Gravity) which I absolutely love and support wholeheartedly, and my royalties are growing.
The grass is plenty green on this side of the fence. So somebody please tell me: WHY would you want to leave?!
…I hope we’re still friends…Have a cookie…
12 responses to “Why Would You Want to Leave Your Publisher?”
Love everything you said, Wendy. Lots of thoughtful information here. thank you also for the marketing challenge shout out! hugs, girl.
Thanks, Rachel! Love you! 🙂
OK. Deep breath: I parted company with my publisher before Christmas, and have now self-published all my titles. Why: Because they were taking 60% of my earnings for doing sod all. Yep, they got my ebooks onto Kobo/Barnes & Noble, but so can I. Nope, they didn’t try to get any print books into shops. I did that. And they failed to edit them properly or proof read them. And their formatting was crap. OK, see why I left? OK, I have a mate who did my covers and was and will be able to continue the series. I’ve been published by OUP/Usborne = 2 of the Big Guys, I’ve had a top London Agent…and honestly, I can say, hand on heart, that it’s preferable to have total control of what I do. But that’s my choice. Like you, I’m not in this to make a fortune, but I find the quality of what (some) small publishers put out to be less satisfactory than what I can achieve for myself. Horses for courses. Does this answer your question? Hope so.
Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry you had this experience. In the circumstances you list, I’d probably leave also. I’m fortunate not to have these issues with my publisher and team. Best of luck to you.
WHY you ask and back up with so many informative reasons to stay with Booktrope, your Publisher. Well, when something isn’t working with a Publisher, hybrid or traditional for many reasons, (miscommunication, marketing, misperception) it takes courage, integrity and honesty to find the ‘right’ fit. I am a writer, not a brand and I will always be a writer first. Poor, perhaps but the words are mine.
I wish YOU the very best and continued success with Booktrope. xx
Thank you for your comments, Jackie. I imagine it takes just as much courage to decide to break a contract with a publisher as it does to sign with one in the first place. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you and hated to see you leave. But I’m glad we’re still able to work together and maintain friendship. And I wish you all the best going forward. 🙂
Despite the publisher not being a good fit, I love the Gravity authors, Rachel Thompson and meeting awesome peeps like you. I’m grateful for the learning experience, friendship and continued working relationship. 👍🏼
I think in some cases people don’t understand a) publishing and b) business in general.
Some people think that Booktrope is a vanity publisher that takes advantage of authors. That’s ridiculous because Booktrope gets nothing unless the book sells, and they use their startup funds to add staff and infrastructure.
Before I signed on with Booktrope I self-published, mostly because I got tired of trying to find the right agent/publisher. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $5k to self-publish because I used professionals for editing, cover design and proofreading. I never came close to making that money back. I’m OK with that because I learned a ton about how it all works, but anyone who tries to self-publish without spending money is probably delusional and probably produces unprofessional looking books.
I decided to go for it with Booktrope because I figured <70% of some sales was better than 100% of no sales and I was not doing well at marketing my book myself. Booktrope gets a share because they enable you to get your book out in the world, honed to professional standards, with no money upfront. You split your 70% because the people who helped you hone and market your book are entitled to be paid for their services. It's all very fair.
I have also seen some indie authors and a few who have complained about Booktrope, who don't seem to know how to behave in public. They bray about their own importance, insist they don't need editing, feel cheated when they're charged for things that actually cost money. They fight on social media and take the low road when there are disagreements. They constantly try to hawk their wares instead of engaging meaningfully with others and generally behave in ways that would get them fired from just about any in-person professional job.
Thank you for sharing your story. It’s always nice to meet a fellow ‘Tropian. 😉 Best of luck with your book(s)!
Hmmm…part of my response didn’t make it…I totally agree with you, Jennifer. It’s unfortunate that Booktrope isn’t a perfect fit for everyone because they have a great model.
Let’s run a few numbers. Full disclosure, I used to work for Booktrope. I loved the idea of the model. Huge fan. Until I saw it in action. As a proofreader, I worked on numerous projects. Here’s are two examples from my time with Booktrope.
An author in a relatively popular genre released two books. In the first twelve months of each book’s life, the author sold less than 200 copies. Sales have only fallen from there. A proofreader makes 2% of sales. Each ten+ hour project has paid me less than $15 total.
Of course, some authors sell more. But others sell less. Another author in a less popular genre hasn’t even sold twenty copies in six months. Yep. That book needed more work, so a slightly higher percentage was offered. I’ve made $4 for more than twenty hours of work.
Booktrope tells creative team members that they should build a portfolio of projects and their earnings will grow. Well, that might be the case, but how many people have the time to work for free for two or three years until that happens? Not me, which is why I left after more than ten projects.
So why should an author leave? Because they understand that their creative team members are professionals who deserve to be paid for their hard work.
I understand that the idea of publishing for free is attractive when compared to self-publishing. A good book cover costs upwards of $200. A professional edit costs in the thousands. And that doesn’t take into account the formatting or proofreading. A publicist can run you at least $35/hour, if not $50 or more. But that’s because each of these jobs requires years of experience to master. You wouldn’t build houses for pennies (or even dollars) per hour. You wouldn’t even do data entry for that rate. Why would you want to perpetuate a system where creative professionals are expected to do the same?
That’s why you’d leave.
Thank you for sharing. I understand your predicament and sympathize. For me, the benefits – experience & exposure as an editor & proofreader, assistance marketing my own book, networking with other writers/editors/readers internationally – far outweigh the downside – sporadic sales and low-percentage royalties. I signed with Booktrope mainly for the benefits I just listed, while acknowledging that my royalties earnings may never be more than low-3-figures, even for my own book(s). And I’m okay with that because I’m doing what I love and have a regular day job to pay the bills. 🙂
Thank you again for your comments. I wish you the best with your writing and publishing ventures.