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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Has Publishing Become a Kinky Game? Ruth Harris Talks about Writer Masochism and How to Cure It


I have to admit that when Ruth Harris first talked to me about “writer masochism,” I cringed.

I realized she was describing me.

Not so long ago, I fell so deeply into the writer-masochism pit, I couldn’t see a way out.  I gave exclusives, signed onerous contracts, accepted puerile assessments of my work as gospel truth, and spent years feeling powerless and unworthy, begging for any publishing professional to let me lick his/her kinky boots.

And I’m not alone. The story of most writers’ forays into the dark world of publishing can read like a metaphorical Story of O

Worst of all, a lot of writers tend to shame and bully each other into playing the assigned submissive role. I realize now the BDSM rule-enforcers were partly responsible for the nasty attacks I got when I tried to tell my fellow Boomers not to be afraid of writing Amazon reviews  (More on Boomers’ fear of tech in a great post by Jane Friedman this week.) 

After I wrote that, the self-appointed Writing Inquisition let loose the full force of its self-righteous fury, trashing my Amazon buy pages, vilifying me on forums, telling me I'd never sell a book in this Internet again--even emailing me death threats (Seriously. Some of these people had major mental health issues.) All because I told authors’ fans that Amazon reviews empower readers so they no longer have to play a submissive role to the publishing establishment. Heresy!!

Here are some quotes from the diatribes I got from the Writer-Masochists:

  • “Authors should never pay attention to reviews or book rankings. They should write for the pleasure of writing.”
  • “Once I release a book, I truly release it. I cannot control if it's read, how it's reviewed, if it's reviewed, etc. and that's fine by me.”
  • “Why would you read your own reviews? It’s none of your business if anybody likes your book.”
  • “Authors who track their sales are narcissistic.”
  •  “It is unethical in all cases for friends or family members to review your book.”
  • “I would never write to make money. You disgust me.”
Can you imagine those things being said to members of any other profession?

  • “How dare you talk about billable hours, Ms. Lawyer! You should be practicing law for the pleasure of it!”  
  • “Once I finish a painting, I throw it out in the street. When it comes to selling my work, I am ignorant and powerless, and that’s fine with me.”
  • “Why would a teacher read his class evaluations? It’s none of your business if your students are satisfied.”
  •  “Performers who pay attention to ticket sales are narcissistic.” 
  •  “It is unethical for Real Estate/Insurance agents/stockbrokers/Avon ladies to sell to family and friends.”
  • “I would never practice medicine for money. Doctors who expect to be paid disgust me.”

The sad thing is most of these quotes were from WRITERS. (I didn’t include the obscene and violent ones, because I deleted them right away. Sometimes I wish I’d kept them for proof of the extremes of writerly loonitude.)

Most of the above dogma is intended for published authors. But the rules for the Great Unpublished are just as bad. Maybe it’s not entirely a coincidence that our communications with the industry are called “submissions.” 

How many times have you been told—

  • Don’t call us; we’ll call you.
  • Learn patience: Expect us sit on your manuscript for several years with a 99% chance we’ll reject it.
  • But it has to be an exclusive, so you can’t submit to anybody else during those years.
  • I’ll only consider this if you remove all your gay/abused/racially-diverse characters and spend a year rewriting it as a Christian-thriller/vampire-werewolf-romance/post-apocalyptic-zombiefest—with no guarantee of representation.
  • If you don’t hear from us in the next 6 months, it’s probably a no. But we won’t bother to tell you, even though we require paper submissions with an SASE. (What do they do with all those SASE’s, do you suppose?)
  • You didn’t/did use italics/Oxford commas/Courier font, so it’s an automatic no.
  • My 13-year-old unpaid intern says the plot/characters are too complex. (Speaking of abuse—what’s this with the unpaid-intern child-labor stuff?)
Yes, last week I did say the query process is the best way to learn about the publishing business, and I still think it is. Not all agents and publishers are sadistic bullies. But when you go through it—remember you have choices. Don’t let the Inquisitors tell you it’s your duty to submit to abuse.

NOTE: This post is NOT telling everybody to run out and self-publish immediately in order to avoid masochistic behavior.

Ruth is saying the self-publishing revolution is turning the tables. Because of the massive changes brought about by the e-book, writers now have choices we’ve never had before. Because we now have the choice to walk away, publishers are going to have to learn respect or lose out.

Ruth has been on both sides of the publishing game: a NYT bestselling author and a Big Six editor. She knows what she’s talking about.

So any time you’re told it’s your duty to fall on your knees and obey your publishing masters, answer back: “NOT ANY MORE! 

WRITER MASOCHISM: THE ROOTS, THE CAUSES, THE CURE

by Ruth Harris


I’ve seen it in myself, in other writers (even mega bestselling writers), in writers trying to get established—a learned masochism. In publishing the inevitable vulnerabilities and insecurities every human being is born with become the leverage by which publishers for several decades have ruled with an iron-fisted upper hand.
WM is the reason publishers have been able to get away with screwing writers for so long: the shabby treatment, the unfair contracts, the declining advances, the pathetic royalty rates, and incomprehensible royalty statements.
The writer-publisher relationship used to be much more equal. Paperbacks were sold in every drugstore, grocery store, supermarket, even in gas stations. To fill those almost-omnipresent racks, publishers needed writers & the work they created. There were lots of markets, lots of genres were routinely published, and editors & writers were colleagues who worked together coming up with new ideas or new twists on old ideas.
More contracts were signed, more books were published and sold, more writers  were able to make a living. When that massive distribution went away, publishers no longer needed to fill the racks and were no longer so dependent on writers.
A complete power switch occurred in which the writer lost and became the beggar shaking his/her alms cup hoping for a crumb, a penny, a kind word.
Over time, the writer was placed in the position of the relentlessly abused, rejected, criticized and undermined child—even though the parent (the publisher) would aver how much they “loved” you. Out of that unequal relationship a demon’s brew of writer masochism flowered.
No matter what happened, every book that didn’t sell up to expectations—basically just about every book published—was ALWAYS the writer's fault.
Never mind that the ad/promo/pub budget ranged from miniscule to non-existent.
·        Or that the one meager ad (that’s if you were lucky enough to get an ad) buried Allah-knows-where was, shall we say?, massively inadequate to the results expected.
·        Or that the cover had nothing to do with book.
·        Or that books weren't in bookstores even as the writer (me & plenty of others) was damn near killing herself/himself touring.
·        Or that no one bothered to use rave reviews to stir up excitement and interest. Those raves were just filed away to languish in oblivion, never to see the light of day.
·        Or that suggestions a writer (who you’d think might know a thing or two about her/his own book) made about how to sell her/his book were ignored.
·        Or that books—even books for which publishers competed & willingly paid large advances—were regularly published in secret, spine out somewhere in the back of the store on a bottom shelf next to the men’s room.
Nope. Blame the writer
The book didn't sell so it must have sucked—even if the publisher willingly, eagerly paid a lot of money to acquire it.
Even if the reviews were spectacular.
Even if book clubs, paperback publishers, foreign publishers, and movie companies spent beaucoup to acquire the rights.
In fact, by selling off sub rights and thus recouping the amount of the advance, publishers had even less motivation to aggressively sell the book in question.
The publisher’s solution to the lackluster sales: Move on to the next book, the next writer. Then blame that one, too.
And what did writers take away from the downbeat response, the blaming, the phone calls that weren’t returned, the memos containing suggestions or requesting information that were never answered?
They became prisoners of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Writers began to feel that the criticism was deserved, the disappointment was their fault, and that the way to a more rewarding outcome was to write a better book next time. Except, of course, that no one knew exactly what a “better book” was.
I have never once heard a publisher of mine (or anyone else’s) ask what they could have done differently or admit in any way that their publishing effort had been lacking.
When several of my books hit the New York Times bestseller list, the response was not pride or pleasure. It was a pout: “But it didn’t sell as much as we thought.”
THE CURE: take control—and responsibility.
With the advent of e-publishing, a second huge switch has taken place, this time, with the power going back to the writer.
Now it’s publishers who are feeling threatened and being undermined.
We hear the howls, we see how much they like it (NOT!) and how desperate they feel—just the way writers used to feel (because, back then, back in the bad old days, writers were the ones with no power and no choice).
********
What about you, scriveners? Have you ever been urged to practice masochistic behavior by publishing professionals or fellow writers? Have you ever got to the point where you believed writers deserve to be abused? Have you ever fought back?

Update: Family Therapist Sandy Nathan has written a companion piece to this post on her blog, Your Shelf Life--explaining why the lack of balance in the publisher/author relationship can be hazardous to your mental health. 


Ruth has more book news! She has two new boxed sets:  A three-book set of the 20th Century Woman  and a five book set that includes two more of her NYT bestsellers  (and hit the top five in the recent history Kindle bestseller list this week.) 
 And remember that ZURI is coming soon….

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46 Comments:

Anonymous Catherine Ryan Hyde said...

Barry Eisler also took a lot of abuse for suggesting some of the same things you and Ruth did, Anne. People don't necessarily like to look at their situation through this lens, but it's crucial to presenting new possibilities. All change begins with the acceptance of the need for change. I must admit that I look at my books differently now that the two Indie ebook titles have begun to sell well. I hadn't realized how much I blamed myself and the work until now. Now I look back and think, The publishers really did do a bad job and blame it on me. Great post.

April 29, 2012 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Chihuahua Zero said...

Is the tale about the unpaid 13-year-old intern true?

April 29, 2012 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Catherine--You're an author who has been there, so we really appreciate your feedback. Amazing how a "failed" book can become the #1 bestseller on Kindle when you're in charge of your own publicity. Congrats on Second Hand Heart making #1!

Chihuahua--I did exaggerate a little there. Agents do use unpaid high school interns these days, but they're usually more like 15 or 16 years old. Still, I don't think I was an expert judge of adult fiction when I was that age, so I'm not sure the practice is a great one for authors. (Not sure about the interns either.)

April 29, 2012 at 11:26 AM  
Anonymous D. August Baertlein (Dawn) said...

Writer Masochism describes my situation pretty well. After a few requests for complete manuscripts and subsequent rejections, and knowing that even very good work is rejected over and over again, I finally took a deep breath (or six hyperventilating ones) and published my YA novel SYNAPSE myself.

I had lots of writer friends telling me SYNAPSE was good, but still I chewed my nails and questioned my sanity. Surely the experts were right. Surely I wasn’t good enough. I should forget the whole thing. Who did I think I was, anyway?

Last week SYNAPSE made the semifinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest. Yippeee!! (More hyperventilation, but this time the joyful kind.) It’s now down to 50 out of 5,000 entries – 1%!

Books are still not flying off the virtual shelf. Agents and Editors are not beating down my door. But I feel validated as a writer! Being in the top 1% of an editor’s submissions might have earned me a nice personal rejection. I’ve gotten those. This feels SOOO much better.

Thanks Ruth and Anne for all the wisdom you impart!

April 29, 2012 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Kelly McClymer said...

I have given much of the same advice (patience, grasshopper) to my writing students over the last ten years. Along about mid-2011 (when my backlist books started making money -- equalling the small advances they'd first earned me) I started rethinking my advice. Was I really going to tell a good writer to patiently wait 2 years to hear from a publisher? Was that good advice any longer? But, on the other hand, what about writers who aren't ready yet? Could I tell them to throw their half-baked baby out to the reading public when it wasn't ready?

I was pretty much tongue-tied advice-wise for students with promising work. Get an agent? Harder than getting a sale these days. But I think I know what I'll tell them from now on: the book has to be good. You have to be as sure as you can be that it's good. Then you have to find a good editor (hire/kidnap/bribe, whatever you need to do) to help you make it even better. Then you need a good cover, cover copy, and ... the tried and true writer's friend...patience, Grasshoper.

April 29, 2012 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Vera Soroka said...

Great post ladies! It's taking me a long time to get over some of those things you both talked about. Writers can be the worst bunch on themselves and to each other. But now I've learned so much more in this business and feel much wiser to this writing business that I will create the art I want.
I like what Kelly said-patience grasshopper.

April 29, 2012 at 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Susn Tuttle said...

Quite a fears ago I sent a manuscript to an agent (after going through the query, synopsis, first chapter then first 5 chapters route. Such hope!). All my beta readers loved the story. So did the agent, but ultimately he rejected it because there was "something wrong with it, but I can't figure out what." I was so dejected I almost gave up serious writing, and I didn't submit anything anywhere for years.

I pulled the story out again last year and sent it through my current critique group, who also love the story (and did help a lot in tightening it). But it wasn't until I re-read it that I realized what was "wrong" with it. Nothing! It was just that, way back then, it was a new genre - one that is very popular today (paranormal suspense). Wish I'd had the foresight and confidence not to play the WM Game and to stand up for my work! What a different story my writing career could have been.

Thanks, Ruth and Anne, for a great post!

April 29, 2012 at 12:51 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Catherine—It's difficult to recognize the masochistic aspect of submitting-rejection-submitting etc etc. Kind of like asking a fish to describe water. We float in abusive treatment & eventually become (almost) accustomed to it & even to expect it. Not that that makes it feel the slightest bit better. Sad situation, sad story, but oh so common.

Chihuahua—Well, maybe metaphorically true! But we all know what Anne means.

Dawn—Wow! Congratulations! And you're so right about *which* 1% feels better!

Kelly, thank you for such a thoughtful analysis. Your students are fortunate to have such a competent & honorable teacher.

Vera—Yes, it does take a long time—even to become aware of the amount of blame & criticism leveled at us. Is it really any wonder that we strike out at ourselves & sometimes at each other?

It sounds like you are reaching a much more realistic attitude toward publishing & your own place in it.

April 29, 2012 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Susan—What you & the agent didn't—and couldn't—understand at the time is that a genre that doesn't exist/isn't yet recognized can't be sold. There is nowhere for a bookstore to shelf it, no known group of readers who look for it, no way for a publisher or an agent to get the ms into receptive hands.

What was "wrong" was timing. But now your time has come & isn't it wonderful?

April 29, 2012 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Shelly Thacker said...

Amazing post, Ruth! Thank you for having the courage the speak out.

Your bullet points above are basically a checklist of all the things that went wrong during my 10 years with 2 different Big 6 publishers. Awards, great reviews, fabulous fan mail--none of it mattered to them. They only cared about numbers, number, numbers. They kept saying, "We can't promote you until your sell-through numbers go up," to which I always said, "My sell-through numbers won't go up until you promote me." It's the Great Publishing Industry Catch-22. They only spend marketing $$ on brand-name, superstar authors--the ones who need it least.

I finally walked away from the Big 6 in disgust when I was offered what I considered a ridiculously low advance. My then-agent was furious with me for turning down a "perfectly good contract" and dumped me.

Today, after just 5 months as an indie author, I've already out-earned that advance--with only 2 backlist books published so far. I have 7 more titles to e-publish this year.

I'm publisher-free, agent-free, and happier than I've ever been in my career. No more Writer Masochism for me.

April 29, 2012 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger Dalya Moon said...

Holy smokes about the hate mail! I read your original article and found it insightful and honest. I even giggled at the "helpful" friend posting a 2-star review.

I think there's a conspiracy of silence among writers, where certain things are off-limited for talking about! For exactly the same backlash reasons you experienced.

I've only recently decided to own the "feminist" tag, and I'm sure I'll catch flack for that sooner or later. I also include a lot of diversity in my books - people of all colors and sexual orientation. You know, as much as people cry out about the whiteness of a TV show like Girls, I don't see anyone jumping up to applaud the indie writers who do employ some diversity. (BTW, My books are not at the maximum for multi-cultural-ness, but I try.)

On the Internet in general, there's a lot of yelling over people doing things wrong, but not a ton of support for people who are trying to do things right. People just don't get worked up into mobs over good things, I'm afraid.

Yes, I do notice a streak of masochism in some writers. Some people hold onto self-loathing as a part of their identity. As is their right! It's not for me, but I do get annoyed when they try to inflict their values on me.

Anyways ... keep at it. I support you!

April 29, 2012 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Sandy Nathan said...

Excellent article, Ruth & Anne! I was so taken by it that I ended up writing a blog article about Writer's Masochism, and associated topics. The article is here: http://www.yourshelflife.com/?p=1615

I was going to write my blog article here, in your comment box, but realized it would be HUGE. So I put it on my blog, linking to your article a bunch of times.

I extrapolate from what you say to incorporated family systems theory as I learned it getting my MA in counseling. And I add in the meat of a fantastic article by an attorney/psychotherapist. (Apparently law is as hard on people as the publishing industry.)

Anyway, another good job. Here's Will's article about depression and the law:
http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/articles/an-interview-with-will-hoffmeyer-about-depression-in-the-legal-profession/

Sandy

April 29, 2012 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger Charley Robson said...

Awesome post both of you! Though I have to say I rather like the idea of some unpaid intern work with a publisher, I like to think I'm mature enough to understand more complex things than love triangles, ha!

Publishing is a bit of a tricky business, but I've always been a firm believer in believing in yourself, and your work. I don't mean being rude and calling your publisher names if they're going a long time without getting back to you, but being assertive and pushing the process on and - as you said -taking responsibility for your own publicity and suchlike is something I think authors in this day and age need to do.

Brill post both of you! :)

April 29, 2012 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Shelly—Thank YOU! I know just what you're talking about. Been there. Done that. The other standard bullbleep line is "Advertising doesn't work. Word of mouth sells books."
Right. How the h*ll do you get word of mouth when no one knows the book even exists?

I'm sure you heard that one, too.

Your agent was furious because he was going to miss out on his/her 15%. Boo hoo.

You're free. period. Feels good, doesn't it?

Dalya—Thank you for your comment & your support. On the internet a certain kind of self-censorship takes over & I understand it. There's no conspiracy of silence among writers who know each other & speak to each other in person. All I can say is: If you heard the stories I've heard....

Sandy—Thanks so much for your comment & your links. ! I'm looking forward to reading your article and to Will's article about depression & the law. I read an article today by an ex-banker (he's a Brit, IIRC) who wrote with astonishing bitterness about the price he paid to make lots of money. He ultimately decided it wasn't worth it & walked away. It's not just writers...

Charley—Thanks for the compliments & the astute observation. The writer was always responsible for publicity...getting quotes, setting up interviews, touring...it was very hard work with little reward.

April 29, 2012 at 2:55 PM  
Blogger DeniseCovey_L_Aussie said...

I have trouble believing things are this bad, or would have until I got a distressed email from a published author friend who said one of her relatives had completely trashed her on Amazon. She was gutted.

Thankfully, plenty of others came to her aid with counter reviews.

I'll send her this link.

Denise

April 29, 2012 at 3:24 PM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think I laughed my way through most of this! That's some serious abuse.
And I know several authors who say never read your own reviews, which doesn't make sense to me. If I hadn't read reviews of my first book, I wouldn't have know to work harder on world building and introduce a female character into the second one.

April 29, 2012 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Denise--I'm glad to hear some came to her rescue. One of her relatives trashed her? Charming.
Jealous is more like it.

Alex—You're fortunate you found constructive reviews. And you're intelligent to be able to take very good advice. Doesn't always happen that way. Sorry to say...

April 29, 2012 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Donna Hole said...

This is makes me afraid to send my writing out. But, I know there are ethical agents/publishers out there. You just gotta find them :)

......dhole

April 29, 2012 at 10:58 PM  
Blogger Judith Mercado said...

With your help and encouragement, I am lifting the heavy cloak which has weighed me down. I am peeking out at the new vistas that the new world of publishing offers and am preparing for self publication. It is a long-term project which I aim to do thoughtfully. There is a quite different feeling, though, from the also thoughtful way I had approached querying. Having control and choice are so liberating.

April 30, 2012 at 4:29 AM  
Blogger Judith Mercado said...

Ugh. Grammar glitch. Having control and choice IS liberating.

April 30, 2012 at 4:30 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Donna—You're right. There are certainly ethical agents & publishers and you WILL be able to find them.

As for fear, I wonder if fear is a subject I should address in a future post? Thanks for an interesting idea!

Judith—Glad I could help if only a little—and congratulations! Control & choice make me feel like a grown-up. I think most people & most writers react simularly.

April 30, 2012 at 4:48 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

What a great post. It's always fascinating to see how critical it is for a commodity to reach its market, how easily a valuable resource can be quickly controlled by a small group in order to make money off that resource: Diamonds, gold, novels, paintings, screenplays. They've always faced that same problem: How do I get this "thing" into the hands of the buyer? Now, with e-books, authors have turned into direct sales personages, with really interesting results.

April 30, 2012 at 6:34 AM  
Anonymous Susanne Alleyn said...

Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.

I had my first novel published with a small publisher, which treated me well, listened to my suggestions for promotion (and shelled out some money for same), and the novel, while no bestseller, sold through the advance and earned me a little extra money.

My four Aristide Ravel mystery novels were published by a Big Six publisher (St Martin's) and got no promotion, no effort, etc etc. It was, naturally, the author's fault that the third novel (which earned two starred reviews) came out in July 2009, in the depth of the Great Recession, as a $25 hardcover, and didn't sell terribly well except to libraries. It was the author's fault that the fourth novel (which also earned two starred reviews) sold better, but not "enough", when the publicity department happily ignored the previous novel's rave reviews and neglected to mention those stars, and compounded it by writing a completely inaccurate description of #4 in the catalogue. So of course it was entirely the author's fault when they dropped the series.

My agent--a very good one--is currently shopping around my new novel to the usual publishers, large and small. But I hope she will accept the fact that I absolutely will not sign a crappy contract with a Big Six publisher because it's "the best anyone is offering these days." I'd rather go with a micropress for a tiny advance and good treatment, or self-publish, than submit to a crappy contract and indifferent treatment from a Big Sixer.

My agent is already working in partnership with me in reissuing my earlier novels as eBooks, and is still trying for foreign sales, audio sales, etc, for all of them. And if she works with me in a self-publishing partnership for the new book, and looks to the long tail rather than to the short-term gratification of a lump sum advance, I think we both win.

It really is time for professional, proven authors to stand up to the clueless Big Publishers!

April 30, 2012 at 7:45 AM  
Blogger Elaine L. Orr said...

A very thoughtful piece, and I hope it empowers others. I used to have a stack of rejection letters that I packed up each time I moved. Some were the twelfth-generation photocopy standard rejections, others were encouraging saying "not now, send again." Some never replied (agents or publishers). I had nonfiction published with traditional publishers, then decided to try self publishing for fiction. I have not looked back. I make more than I anticipated I would (as quickly) with my Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, and I'm still learning about effective marketing. It may be a couple years before I do it all well, and if I write poorly constructed novels people will stop buying. But I'm out there and love it. I just volunteered to teach a three-session workshop in self publishing (for free) at my library, and they have accepted. People have offered me advice and encouragement. It's time to give back. Elaine Orr (elaineorr.blogspot.com)

April 30, 2012 at 8:11 AM  
Blogger Stacy Lyn said...

Thank you SO much for all the writing tips. At least now I know that what I experience is normal!

I'd like to give you the Versatile Blogger Award. You blog touches on so many writing topics, and I appreciate it. <3

April 30, 2012 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Churadogs—Thanks for the flattery! Always welcome! :-)

You're right about commodity-control & you've expressed the dilemma very well. E-pub is nothing less than a revolution & TradPub are the buggy whip manufacturers of the 21st C.


Susanne—Sorry you had that awful SMP experience. Unfortunately, not at all unusual. Blame The Author is standard MO. Some writers are crushed by the poor treatment but glad to hear you're still writing & working with an agent who seems open to new, different ways of doing things.

Did you get your rights back from SMP?

Elaine—Thank you. You took your rejection letters with you whenever you moved? Gah!!! But, then again, I'm a dedicated minimalist so out to the trash they went as soon as they arrived.

What good news about your Jolie Gentil cozies—and about your teaching gig. There's so much more to the world than just the agent-publisher-nope merry-go-round.

Stacy—Thanks. Anne does a fantastic job and, because she does, her blog has become a must-read.

April 30, 2012 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

Ruth, Anne: marvelous.

I came here from Sandy's fab follow up. (Where I landed after her comment on Irene's post . . . now I have to tell Best Beloved I've been following other women around all day.)

I've self-published my 9 books. I don't have the time or the stomach to wait to be picked. I've been helping other authors find their way as well.

What floors me is that the biggest challenge in self-publishing is getting writers to believe it's possible. Far too many have no idea it's even possible, and those who've heard of it have often fallen prey to the fear/uncertainty/doubt machine of traditional publishing.

I have written extensively about fear from the perspective of helping authors get unstuck (though I'm an eager disciple of Stephen Pressfield's "The War of Art" I'm currently writing my own take on overcoming resistance because I think Stephen missed some bits.)

If you'd be interested in discussing a guest post about fear, and why we should kick it to the curb (and some practical ways to perform said kicking) I'd love to write it.

April 30, 2012 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Joel--Thanks much for the offer. Let's talk. Email me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com.

April 30, 2012 at 3:27 PM  
Blogger Laura Pauling said...

I can't believe you received such hateful comments! But I guess that's how far we've come! I think we never saw that way as abusive or off balance because it was the only way! Yes, self publishing has always existed but not like it does today.

I'm not reading reviews while I write book 2. But when I have the first draft done, I'll read them and see where I can make book 2 stronger. I truly believe that through this process I'll grow more as a writer than if I'd continued querying!

April 30, 2012 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Laura--You would not believe the crap I got hit with. I learned a lot about Internet bullies. Now I know why Nathan B got so touchy when people objected to him using his blog for promotion. Some of the haters are seriously crazypants. Hating is a hobby for them, and the object is pretty random.

I think each writer knows when he's ready to stop querying. Depends on your goals and your talent for promotion.

I'm not a person who can keep from reading reviews, although I'm sure it's healthier when you're in creative mode. I've learned a lot from negative reviews. Mostly about who my audience isn't.

I know actors who didn't read reviews after opening night. Me, I didn't care what they said as long as they spelled my name right. :-)

April 30, 2012 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger christine A said...

I love the analogy with other professions. It is so true, no one but a writer would put up with the humiliation and control that the publishing industry inflicts on us. We are a humble bunch, for the most part. I cringed when I saw myself in this post and cring at the realization that part of me is still willing to put up with it! But no where else in my life. Interesting.

May 1, 2012 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Christine—Thank you for your comment.

You make an interesting point about how writers put up with shabby, insulting treatment from publishers they would never tolerate from anyone else. It's an aspect of the abused child/learned victim role and stems from the reality that, for so long, writers had no other options. Fortunately, the advent of epub has changed all that.

May 1, 2012 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

Not so much. I went with a small publisher and frankly, I was pleased with the experience.

I care about the reviews, they determine how I write my future books. I'm not going to let the bad reviews get me down but constructive criticism is always viewed (by me) as helpful.

Very thought-provoking post.

May 3, 2012 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Clarissa—glad to hear you had a positive experience. Good publishing stories certainly take place.

May 3, 2012 at 2:06 PM  
Anonymous Leigh Michaels said...

I've come back to this post half a dozen times since it went up, and each time I read through Anne's and Ruth's comments I see myself more clearly.

I'm the author of 100 traditionally published books including sweet contemporary romances and spicy historical romances. I've watched publishing change over the 25 years of my career. In the early days, praise and appreciation were common. But so gradually that it was easy to miss, the climate changed and the abuse grew. When my first publisher and I parted ways, there was not a single word of regret or appreciation from the editor who delivered the coup de grace. I was paralyzed -- and wrote no fiction at all for several years. Because the changes had happened so slowly, I didn't understand that Writers Masochism had put down deep roots in me.

Though I'm back to work, with new books out and more in the pipeline, I still deal with the aftereffects on a daily basis. Thank you for helping me name it and understand it -- so I can fight it.

May 3, 2012 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Leigh—Your comment brought stinging tears to my eyes. You've expressed the metaphor I considered but didn't use: the frog in water that becomes gradually hotter until the poor creature boils to death.

You are not the only writer to have suffered the gradual destruction of your will/desire to write and the ensuing paralysis. I am so glad you are back working again!

May 3, 2012 at 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Will Entrekin said...

Really nice post I very much agree with. I've seen some indie authors backhandedly refer to a "Stockholm Syndrome" writers have with "traditional" publishers, but I think it really does come down to a form of masochism. It's funny that it's called the submission process, because in a lot of ways it's something that writers must submit to in ways that have nothing to do with sending a query.

I disagree with the aside that the best way to learn about the publishing process is through submissions, though. It might be the best way to learn about the *old* publishing/distribution model, but I think one of the reasons for the scarcity of innovation in publishing is too much adherence to those old models. There are new models and options available, and while it's good to know what came before, it's better to dream what can be better.

May 4, 2012 at 10:43 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Will—Thank you. I would point out that the masochism can also be seen in indie publishing. Bad formatting, poor covers, inappropriate promo are all examples.

May 4, 2012 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

This is an awesome post. I have seen this behavior from tons of writers in my area (all of them mormon). I just mention that because I live in Utah...not because it has to do with religion. But the whole writer masochism and peer pressure thing to be just like them (and suffer at the hands of traditional publishing) is alive and well here. Every writer I've spoken to in person (some represented by Big Six agents) are terrified to even talk to their agent. Like wtf?

May 5, 2012 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Michael—Thank you. Sad to say, the reasons writers are afraid to talk to their agent are many & can range from fearing to hearing bad news to the inability even to get a phone call returned.

WM is learned behavior coming from relentless mistreatment. Writers end up being traumatized—and paralyzed.

May 5, 2012 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Callie Leuck said...

Wow. This is a very interesting insight into a problem that I had vaguely heard of but never really grasped. Thanks for your analysis, both of you.

May 8, 2012 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Callie—Thanks. The System has had a strangle hold for so long, it can be difficult to see its consequences & difficult to break away from.

May 8, 2012 at 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Mari Passananti said...

Only an entitled out-of-touch twerp would find fault with those who write for money. Jeesh.

May 10, 2012 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mari--Those words are kinder and more genteel than the ones I used. :-). I suspect these were college students getting expensive creative writing degrees at their parents' expense. Alas, reality will hit them harder than most when they graduate.

May 11, 2012 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Pat Powers said...

Your blog post inspired me to write a post of my own. I'm well outside the mainstream of traditional writers (my blog is EXTREMELY NSFW) and I found it interesting that someone more hooked into traditional publishing shared my opinions of traditional publishing practices.

July 31, 2012 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Pat—Thanks. Too much power for too long is never healthy & those that have that kind of power tend toward bad endings.

July 31, 2012 at 1:43 PM  

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