It’s probably the worst kept secret in publishing that DGLM has been successfully repping a lot of Indie authors. In fact, the recent RT conference was filled to the rafters with our clients (prompting a delightful voicemail message from Larry Kirshbaum of Amazon to Jane…but more on that in another blog post or over drinks at BEA).
We’ve learned a tremendous amount from these authors about how to successfully self-publish and these lessons have direct and significant application to traditional publishing. The smarter houses have committed to a partnership with us and our clients, showing tremendous vision and flexibility in the way they have modified their systems to accommodate the special needs of people who can sell oodles of books on their own, thank you very much.
Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Grand Central, and PenguinUSA have all been aggressive in offering huge deals that are enticing to our authors not just because of the money involved but because of their afore-mentioned flexibility in terms of publishing schedules, contractual terms (including options and non-compete clauses), marketing and promotion, and their genuine desire to help grow these writers’ careers. And, here’s where the partnership aspect is important.
Some Indie authors are looking at what these publishers are offering and scoffing, especially if the advances being discussed are less than seven figures. They think, and rightly so in most cases, that they can make that money themselves without giving such a huge percentage to a third party. They also feel (again, rightly so in most cases) that they can market themselves more effectively than a house that is publishing hundreds, if not thousands, of books per year. But, as we’ve often discussed on this blog, that’s a shortsighted view because of the intangibles.
The beauty of and frustrating thing about publishing is that it has never been an exact science—and given how many English majors work in this business, that’s hardly surprising. So much of what succeeds in our world is due to serendipity and that most fickle of all phenomena, taste, that it’s impossible for a publishing “formula” to show a higher rate of success than, say, Derek Jeter’s batting average. But, despite that, publishers offer a wealth of intangibles that are actually quite measurable over the course of a career, among them editorial support, an understanding of the book buying marketplace that is more macro than micro, a team of professionals whose job it is to make the author look good, a belief in books that is almost evangelical, and a brand identity that has evolved over centuries and that will continue to do so.
So, when an Indie client says to us, what can Publisher X do for me that I can’t do for myself, my answer would be, they can help you establish and grow your career with a goal toward longevity. Given our success with negotiating non-compete and option clauses that allow Indie authors to continue to self-publish while they are working with a traditional house, I honestly don’t see the downside to also having a publisher’s imprimatur as an adjunct to your own publishing efforts. I do, however, see how having books published by S&S or HC or GCP can enhance your brand and raise your visibility among readers. Given how crowded and competitive the Indie marketplace has become, I would be heartened to see that an author has been or is published traditionally when deciding whether to buy his/her book. I think many readers feel the same.
The bottom line, of course, is that as with all of our clients, we want our Indie authors to have long, prosperous publishing lives and we feel that, under the right conditions, a trade house can be an invaluable partner in achieving that goal. I’d love to hear what you all think about this because it is a subject that I’m becoming very passionate about.