Saturday, March 10, 2012

Freedom of Choice

Freedom of Choice or D(e)-EVOlution

We live by them. That is, we want to have a life. A real life free of other people making decisions for us, whether we like them or not. Choice is freedom and anything contrary to that is slavery. Pure and simple.

Just last evening I ran across an interview Pay It Forward author and indie publishing proponent, Catherine Ryan Hyde, conducted with bestselling author, Barry Eisler. The topic of discussion was none other than his now infamous interview regarding indie as opposed to legacy publishing with self-published sensation, J.A. Konrath, which they have since published under the title, Be The Monkey. In this very important interview, Eisler talks about the success he's enjoyed not only as an indie published author, but also as a big six and Amazon-hybrid published author.

If you recall, and as Hyde astutely points out in her piece, Eisler is almost single-handedly credited with giving legitimacy to indie and self-publishing when he recently declined a mid-six-figure advance from St. Martin's Press in order to publish on his own. And in doing so, Eisler freed himself not only of the poor royalties the legacy publishers issue to writers, but he freed up his rights. In a word, Eisler proved that authors are no longer bound to traditional methods of publishing. In a word, we now have choices. And those choices are affording us the freedom to write when and what we want, and they are also making us much more money than we ever dreamed of.

While many industry players who work in the legacy publishing business, including many agents, have been understandably upset at the power indie publishing has built up over the past few years and the absolute threat it has born upon the traditional establishment, big publishing is still brushing off the digital revolution like it's nothing more than this month's fad. After all, they were the only game in town for an author like myself who doesn't see this as a hobby, but as a means for making a solid living. But what has apparently shocked Eisler more than denial of the obvious, is the resistance, if not outright contempt, he's received from other writers. Writers who apparently do not wish to enjoy the freedom of choice.   

Says Eisler:

"The most surprising negative reaction I’ve received, though, has been from writers.  And the reason this one has surprised me most is because for me, more choice is an inherently good thing.  It’s just intrinsic and axiomatic to my personality—I want choice because it gives me greater flexibility, increased power, and a better likelihood of achieving the outcomes I want.  And my fundamental message to authors is pretty simple:

'Hey, for the first time, we authors have real choices.  We can stay with the legacy model, we can self-publish, and we can go with the Amazon hybrid or ‘new’ publishing paradigm, which is based more on direct-to-consumer marketing than it is on distribution.  We can publish some of our works via one route, and other works via another.  We have more choice, and that’s giving us more power.  Isn’t that awesome?'"

I've said it before and here I go saying it again: for a popular author to maintain a good living in this the digital age of publishing, he or she needs to engage in a variety of publishing options. Legacy publishing (they still distribute and attract reviewers like no other), indie-based-small press (they offer the benefits of self-publishing such as author input on cover art while paying out a 50% royalty for e-Books as opposed to the legacy-based 17.5%), Amazon Hybrid (all the benefits of a major publisher while abiding by the indie model of author input and a 50% royalty on e-Books), and finally self publishing (DIY means you are in control from "Once upon a time..." to publication and beyond).

 I've engaged in every one of these types of publishing except for self-publishing. I just haven't had the time required to do so. But all that will change in the next six months with the re-publication of my literary novel, Permanence, and a handful of short stories that were previously published in small literary magazines like Maryland Review, Orange County Magazine and Negative Capability. For the first time in my publishing history, I'm no longer a slave to one particular form of publishing. Nobody tells me what to do and how to do it. I don't sit up at night worrying myself to death over my next contract and advance, or if it will happen at all. In a word, I could care less. I have choices now and I know my books are going to sell regardless of who publishes them.

I once went five years without a publishing contract because I wasn't aware of the choices. I was ignorant. A slave to an industry that would tell me they loved my books but that I just hadn't proven that I could sell to the reading populace, even after having earned a mid-six figure advance (yup, just like the one Eisler refused) from a Random House imprint. All that changed last April and May when I moved over 100,000 copies of The Innocent, which lead to a "very nice" seven book deal with Thomas & Mercer (Amazon Hybrid). The Innocent is about to see its third printing and will no doubt sell another hundred thousands copies if not more. Not just because another publisher believes in it, but because I chose to exercise my choice of publishing manner. In doing so I seized an opportunity and developed the skill to survive in this, the toughest game in town. Last year I made more money in royalties than your average accountant. And my pocketbook ain't nearly as deep as Eisler's.

Choices are everything in life. Barry Eisler and other progressive minded authors like him have proven it, time and time again. They are not just industry renegades, they are businessmen and women. Like it or not, writing is a business, not just an art. Any writing professor or literary purist who thumbs his nose at indie publishing will no doubt do so while slogging his way through the dreary wet cold of a mid-winter afternoon on his way to teaching yet another class. Ah yes, teaching: the only way many stuck-in-the-past writers can make a living since they can't make one on the paltry royalty system of the legacy publisher. If that teacher would like to get out of the classroom, perhaps it's time to belly up to the future and engage in several forms of publishing. Then he won't be teaching for a living. He'll be writing.

We don't get to choose just one mate. We play the field until we find the right soul mate.
We don't live in a single spot because we're told to do so.
We don't follow a single religion or abide by a single leader because we'll be shot or beheaded if we don't.
We exercise the freedom of choice.
And it makes our lives richer in many ways. The same should be said of how we choose to publish our words.




  1. Very well put. And the future will show authors like Barry Eisler and Vincent Zandri to be not renegades, but forward-thinkers.

    The animosity between "traditionally-published" authors and "Indie-published" or "self-published" authors has always surprised me, and it continues to surprise me, although it probably shouldn't.

    I believe the problem is that Indie published or self-published authors tend to look at traditionally published authors as stuck-up literary snobs who look down their noses at them, while traditionally published authors have a tendency to view Indies or self-published authors as unworthy wannabes who couldn't or wouldn't do the hard work required to get a contract like they did.

    What's the answer? Every author with name-recognition who comes to the inevitable conclusion that using every avenue available to them is a good thing, like Eisler or Zandri, will knock down a piece of the wall separating the two groups.

    Eventually they'll merge together. It might take a while, but it will happen.

    I just don't know if I'll still be alive to see it...

  2. Really interesting post. I agree, Allan, that part of the deep animosity between these parties has to do w/Commerce Vs. Art. Joyce Carol Oates has met with some suspicion for being "so prolific" --the implication being: If you do it fast, it must be easy. If it's easy, how can it be good?

    There's a lot of turf at stake, obviously.

    Only other point--I am eternally grateful for my MFA program teachers. What they gave me was invaluable, and I teach writing myself. Sure, I'd like to be able to cut back on all that. But to see a student grow, discover, and light up as she finds her voice--it's golden.