Taking it to The People: Do You Need a Mainstream Publisher? by Josh Lanyon

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This is Josh Lanyon’s first column as our Author Contributor in his new writing series called The Size of it. I will only do an introduction this one time since Josh’s new by-line will be a regular monthly feature. So, without further ado (as they say in the best  circles) here’s the first of what I hope will be many articles by Josh about the world of writing.

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It’s a brand new year and I’m guessing that you’ve got a number of plans for your writing career. One of those plans might very well be to land a mainstream publisher.

A while back KA Mitchell and I were comparing royalty statements and the conversation turned to publishing and the fact that so many of our writer friends keep urging us to move into mainstream fiction even though we out-earn a lot of our mainstream writing friends.

Of course it’s not just about money. If you’re in this biz strictly for the loot, let me tell you now that there are much easier ways — up to and including rape and pillage — to earn pocket change. Mainstream publishing brings other things. It brings wider readership and it brings respect. Even if your mainstream book is trashed by everyone, and her cat, you still managed to get published in mainstream (no small feat) and yes, that gets — and deserves — respect.

You may be beloved in indie and small publishing, but the sorrowful truth is you won’t get respect or even much acknowledgement from the publishing establishment (including all your traditionally published pals).  Not if you’re going to write explicitly about sex. Which brings me back to the rape and pillage.

But this isn’t a post to justify writing sexy sex or philosophizing about what real success means. A couple of days ago I received an email notice from All Romance Ebooks stating that they were lifting their minimum title requirement for sellers. I remembered my conversation with KA and I couldn’t help thinking…never mind do we need a mainstream publisher, the real question is do we need a publisher at all?

 (Quick answer? Yes, you probably do, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

The last decade has been a frightening time for the mainstream publishing establishment, and it’s about to get a lot more frightening. It’s also getting a little scary for indie and small presses because technology combined with Smashwords, Lulu, Amazon, Goodreads, and a host of other sites and services make self-publishing viable in a way it’s never been before.

And I say that as a publishing traditionalist.

* * * * *

Because of Man Oh Man: Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks & Ca$h, I regularly receive a lot of email from my fellow writers. I have to say I find some of their questions harder and harder to answer. The industry has changed so much that how I originally got published is barely relevant these days. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Self-publishing, ebooks, and the internet have changed how we do business — how we all do business.

Social media has replaced much of traditional book promotion and ebooks are the single fastest growing (exponentially) segment of publishing. But what does that really mean to you, the writer of m/m fiction?

Well, first of all, if your plan is to write m/m or gay romance for a mainstream press, unless you’re writing spec fiction or mystery or historical, forget it. And even if you are writing mystery or historical, you’re probably going to wind up at an indie press or the specialized imprint of a larger house — which means you’ll still have smaller print runs and you’ll be locked into the restrictions of a mainstream publishing contract. Oh! And you’ll have very likely paid an agent for the privilege.

Even now there’s a very good chance that your mainstream publisher will not recognize the vital importance of having your titles available in electronic format, which is unfortunate because judging by sales figures, the current readership for m/m and gay romance increasingly prefer to read ebooks.

Should you focus your energy on getting a mainstream publisher? Let’s consider the pros and cons.

On the pro side:

1 - You’ll likely get an advance. I love advances.

(I also love the monthly royalty checks that the majority of my ebook publishers issue)

2 - You’ll get an actual print run as opposed to the POD option, which means you’ve got a better shot of winding up on bricks and mortar bookshelves

(Except you’re writing m/m romance so yes and no. You’ll get on some bookshelves for sure, but most of the B&N fleet is still not going to carry you.)

3 - No promotional budget from a major publisher is still more promotion than you get from most indies or ebook publishers — plus there’s the prestige factor of being published in mainstream. There’s no question that being published by HarperCollins carries more clout than being published at Boy Toy Press.

(Social media and tireless energy is a great marketing equalizer especially if you’re not — and generally you’re not — getting a big chunk of promo dollars.)

4 - Your work will be both professionally edited for content and copy.

(Yep. Absolutely. And working with top-notch editors — content editors, in particular — is worth its weight in gold. There are great content editors here but there are many, many more in mainstream just given the logistics of size.)

5 - You’ll have access to mainstream reviews and print media

(Yes — keeping in mind that traditional review venues are falling like autumn leaves and you’ll be fighting tooth and nail with everyone else in mainstream.)

6 – There is more prestige being published in mainstream.

(We covered that above, but yes. There is no arguing with this one. For what it’s worth, there is greater prestige in being published by a mainstream publisher.)

7 - You’ll have a better chance of hitting the national bestseller lists.

(If enough bookstores will carry you, yes.)

8 - You’ll have a better chance of winning prestigious literary awards.

(Yep.)

9 - You’ll have a better chance of moving up the publishing food chain.

(You could be dropped — the midlist migration of genre authors to ebooks is due to wholesale slaughter at a number of big houses — or, you might get another shot under another pen name OR you might thrive and succeed.)

10 - You’ll earn more money.

(Remember, we’re not talking about selling The Cowboy’s Secret Baby here. We’re talking about your m/m romance as marketed and packaged by a mainstream publisher — which could be akin to watching the Incredible Hulk attempt needlepoint.)


On the con side:

1 – You’ll need an agent to make a sale

(But that’s not a bad thing — especially if you’re willing to write the kind of stories that sell well in mainstream)

2 – You’re not happy about the inequities and restrictions of mainstream contracts

(Yeah, no kidding. But not every indie publisher is run by Sir Galahad. Some attempt to usurp the same rights as the big guys — without being able to offer the same advantages. If this is your deal breaker are you ready to consider the logical third option?)

3 – Isn’t it better to be a big fish in a little pond than a guppy swimming with sharks?

(Doesn’t that depend on other variables in the ecosystem?)

4 – No creative freedom

(There’s a lot of variety in New York publishing — even in mainstream genre fiction — and as ebook and indie publishers get more eccentric and restrictive about everything from cover art to house style guides, you may find you prefer a more even-handed approach.)

5. Your stuff doesn’t fit mainstream

(Ah. It’s true that an author who really knows his specific niche market could generate greater sales and make more money through indie publishing — or even by self-publishing — rather than risk having the work mishandled by a mainstream press.) 

6 – You’re not ready for prime time

(Shrewd! It’s true that you can hone your craft in relative privacy while earning supplementary income in a specialized market and when you feel you’re finally ready, take your show on the road. With the sales figures to back you.)

7 – It will take so long for your book to ever get published.

(Actually, indie and ebook lead times are stretching too. Yes, the absolute shortest mainstream turn around I’ve seen is about nine months from submission to publication, but more and more ebook and indie publishers are requiring a minimum of three months — and six months is increasingly typical.)

8 – Mainstream publishers keep the lion’s share of profits.

(Yep. In theory that’s okay because you can sell more units through a mainstream publisher rather than an indie or on your own.)

9 – Mainstream presses are impersonal corporate giants for whom you’re just a number.

(And indie and ebook presses have more than their fair share of nut jobs. Companies are made up of people and people come in all shapes and sizes. Some are helpful and knowledgeable and professional and some are not. You can’t just dismiss the hundreds and thousands of people in an industry because they happen to be part of a conglomerate!)

10 -   Please, Mother. I’d rather do it myself!

(There are more and more tools to make self-publishing viable — especially in a niche market — but, well, one is the loneliest number.)

There are probably more pros and cons to indie versus mainstream publishing than I’ve been able to think of, so please feel free to offer them up for discussion. Like sharing royalty info, the more we talk and exchange information, the better for all of us.

* * * * *

For myself, I like to mix and match, so if it sounds like I’m discouraging you from trying for a mainstream publisher, no. I’m not. I’m only suggesting a mainstream publisher may not be the answer to your prayers.

Did you ever hear of the Long Tail theory?  Essentially, when applied to books and publishing, the Long Tail theory means there’s good money to be had in concentrating your efforts in a niche market. Good money for everyone but, in particular, the author.

The current mainstream publishing paradigm consists of an advance against carefully calculated print runs based slightly under an author’s previous sales performance and a shelf life span of about one to three months. Royalties are held (for years in some cases) against book store returns.

It was always a flawed system and it’s become more and more obsolete as online sales increased. Now with the sudden explosion of ebooks and electronic formats, all bets are off.

For those of us in specialized, or niche, publishing, we do particularly well because we’re selling a hard-to-find item to a dedicated audience. It’s a comparatively small audience, but it’s sufficient to our needs. Remember those old math problems with the pie slices back in grade school? Picture romance publishing as a bunch of big, juicy pies. The bestselling pies are straight romance lemon chiffon, and romance publishers sell a lot more slices of lemon chiffon than they do gay or m/m romance. Their big money makers are those lemon chiffon pies. But from the standpoint of the bakers –er , the authors, there’s a lot of splitting and then more splitting and then more splitting the profits of selling lemon chiffon. Whereas for those of us in, um, the blueberry pie business, we’re not splitting so many pieces or so much profit. Maybe we’re selling fewer pies overall, but our share is bigger.

Anyway, enough with the Simple Simon analogy. If you’re a popular mainstream author you’re doing great. But if you’re a popular author in a small, specialized market, you could also be doing great.

What I’m getting at is that while it’s natural to think moving up to a big mainstream publisher is the only way to go and the single best possible career move a writer can make, if you love what you’re writing, it’s perfectly conceivable that you can do better working with niche publishers in a niche market than you can working with a mainstream publisher who really doesn’t know or understand the market.

The only really important thing is that you love what you’re writing and that the work brings you satisfaction.

 

77 thoughts on “Taking it to The People: Do You Need a Mainstream Publisher? by Josh Lanyon

  1. thelastaerie

    How do you make everything so interesting to read? Just some random thoughts from a reader’s point of view.

    It’s quite funny that in publishing world, mainstream still holds prestige. In many other media area, music or film – mainstream sometimes represent compromise and selling out… *g*. The game is different though, i guess. Mainstream media might sometimes pick up an indie music label or an indie film to rave it up, but I haven’t seen it happened for book publishing. Imagine Oprah endorsing a m/m romance? Even gay publications’ book reviews tend to confine to “bigger” gay press only. So the mainstream media is another thing that makes it hard for indie publishers.

    One thing, as a reader, I can be sure of is that mainstream publishers do have higher quality editing and “finishing”, it’s not all about budget, sometimes I think indie publishers just need to learn the craft and becoming more professional.

    The more I think about it, the more I think mainstream publishers are a bit like EMI, their business model needs updating, they are struggling to find their posittion in a world that moves faster than they do. Maybe one day, not too far in the future, we’ll see an indie publisher rises like Miramax did when Pulp Fiction appeared.

    1. Josh Lanyon


      It’s quite funny that in publishing world, mainstream still holds prestige. In many other media area, music or film – mainstream sometimes represent compromise and selling out… *g*. The game is different though, i guess.

      This is such a great observation. Publishing has always been behind the curve when it came to contemporary business practices — it prided itself on its civility and its gentlemanly rules of conduct. But many of its regular business practices were absolutely out-moded, and they’re increasingly out-moded as technology races ahead.

      Mainstream media might sometimes pick up an indie music label or an indie film to rave it up, but I haven’t seen it happened for book publishing.

      No. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s only in the last three to five years that ebooks have gained any credibility. For years they were mistakenly thought to be self-publishing — many people in mainstream still believe ebooks are synonomous with self-publishing.

      Then again, self-publishing is changing drastically too.

      Imagine Oprah endorsing a m/m romance? Even gay publications’ book reviews tend to confine to “bigger” gay press only. So the mainstream media is another thing that makes it hard for indie publishers.

      To some extent we’re all taking part in an underground movement. And it isn’t so much about our subject matter as it is the publishing choices we’re making!

      One thing, as a reader, I can be sure of is that mainstream publishers do have higher quality editing and “finishing”, it’s not all about budget, sometimes I think indie publishers just need to learn the craft and becoming more professional.

      Yep. Absolutely. This is a segment of the publishing industry largely still driven by amateurs even now.

      The more I think about it, the more I think mainstream publishers are a bit like EMI, their business model needs updating, they are struggling to find their posittion in a world that moves faster than they do. Maybe one day, not too far in the future, we’ll see an indie publisher rises like Miramax did when Pulp Fiction appeared.

      It’s coming. And when it happens it will still hit a huge segment of the mainstream publishing establishment by surprise.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      When it comes to math, I have to keep it simple for my own sake, Eric. I’m one of those people who sees bar graphs and starts wondering what city that’s supposed to be…

  2. wren

    Hi Josh! I do like your insights about the publishing industry. We are on the cusp of a new era, that is for sure.

    “For those of us in specialized, or niche, publishing, we do particularly well because we’re selling a hard-to-find item to a dedicated audience. It’s a comparatively small audience, but it’s sufficient to our needs.”

    I’m curious as to your thoughts regarding what seems to be an explosive number of new releases in this niche. Given the size of the audience, will there soon be more pie than tasters? Maybe this is a different post topic, in which case just tell me to put my hand down :)

    1. Josh Lanyon

      I’m curious as to your thoughts regarding what seems to be an explosive number of new releases in this niche. Given the size of the audience, will there soon be more pie than tasters? Maybe this is a different post topic, in which case just tell me to put my hand down

      Hey there, Wren. Thanks for reading!

      This is hard to answer briefly, and in fact it’s going to be the topic of my next post here.

      The reality is, ALL publishing is cyclical. So right now we’re enjoying a boom in m/m and gay fiction and the niche can support a lot of writers because we’ve got a lot of new readers sampling our wares.

      There is a healthy and dedicated audience for m/m and gay romance — that won’t go away. But a lot of the readers trying us out because this is a hot, trendy genre and we’re getting a lot of press? Those readers will eventually fade out for a few years (and then the cycle begins again).

      And even in the midst of a genre boom, it’s inevitable that not ALL writers will thrive. We’re not all earning the same — the vast majority of writers in our niche don’t earn enough to live on or to support a family — we’re not all selling the same amount of books. It’s not crucial as it is in mainstream. I don’t know of anyone getting dropped from an ebook publisher for lousy sales, but a number of writers will get tired of not earning a lot and will move on to writing other things or simply move on altogether.

  3. L.C. Chase

    Excellent first post for your Contributor column, Josh. Your last sentence is absolutely the most important, IMO.

    I’ve never really given the mainstream guys much thought because they don’t carry – at least with any high visibility – the books I like to read. So yeah, I much prefer blueberry pie anyway. ;)

    1. Josh Lanyon

      I’ve never really given the mainstream guys much thought because they don’t carry – at least with any high visibility – the books I like to read. So yeah, I much prefer blueberry pie anyway.

      This is the crux of it. There is a healthy audience for m/m and gay genre fiction that cannot get what it wants anywhere but HERE. And while it’s a relatively small audience by mainstream standards, we’re still talking hundreds of thousands of readers. Many of whom still haven’t figured out we exist!

      This is still a growing market. And it is sufficient to the needs of a good percentage of us — and will continue to be so.

      1. Feliz

        I am totally with L.C.here. I’m an avid reader, and I’ve read a lot of mainstream books in my life. During the last two or so years I turned to reading mostly m/m because I became more and more bored by mainstream.
        reading your post I get the impression the publishing business in mainstream is harder than it is worth, at least to those of us who love to write just for the love of it. There’s a reason why fandoms and fanfic have become so popular recently. I can’t help thinking if mainstream publishers can’t see where the traing is going, they will wake up one day chasing after it.

        1. Josh Lanyon

          Hey there, Feliz.

          I hope I’m not giving the impression that mainstream isn’t worth the trouble.

          It’s just that we all tend to think of mainstream as the Holy Grail. That unless we manage to land a mainstream publisher we’re not real and legitimate. And that it makes it difficult to be proud of what we have achieved — it makes it difficult to be happy when in the back of your mind you suspect that you should be trying harder, working harder to reach this other place.

          And the fact is you might not be as happy and content in mainstream — and I mean when it comes to tangible financial rewards and loyal readership.

          Yikes. In a minute I’m going to be talking about happiness in your own backyard.

  4. Alex Beecroft

    I agree with LC Chase and you that in the end it’s the last sentence that matters. I’d like the respect that comes with mainstream publishing, but I like better the satisfaction of writing the book I want to write, whether it’s mainstream or not.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      I agree with LC Chase and you that in the end it’s the last sentence that matters. I’d like the respect that comes with mainstream publishing, but I like better the satisfaction of writing the book I want to write, whether it’s mainstream or not.

      Running Press is proof that a mainstream publisher might be willing to take a stab at taking m/m romance to a traditional market. The difficulty is that their criteria for ultimate success — and justifying whether to continue the experiment — is going to be more complicated because of the mainstream publishing infrastructure.

      Basically, if you don’t enjoy what you write, this becomes like any other difficult and demanding day job.

  5. Tam

    As a reader, I don’t really care or want my favourite authors to go mainstream. :-) Nothing personal, I want you to all be successful and rich and happy, but why am I not keen to have you jump ship to Simon and Shuster?

    a) I read m/m exclusively now and unless you are publishing your m/m work in the mainstream, I am unlikely to pick up your work.

    b) I rarely read paper books anymore. I really don’t like them (unless they are authographed – fangirl squeee). I prefer e-books so again, if you are publishing m/m I’m likely going to buy an e-book which I suppose I can get through kindle (which I don’t have) or some way, not certain how that works for maintream books.

    c) My bookstores in my city, even the largest one downtown, do not carry any gay fiction. NONE! I asked and they said they didn’t know where to put it, file it in with the general stuff risking complaints from uptight straights, or put it separately risking complaints of segregation (which I thought was a lame-ass reason for not doing anything at all). Sure I can order it on-line but it’s not the same.

    So while for some people mainstream publishing may be the goal, as you noted, you probably have to be prepared to give up your current genre of choice. Some people maybe don’t care and can write most anything and be successful and are happy to write m/f romance, or mysteries or sci-fi or angsty chick lit. I would send my congratulations to anyone who succeeds at anything they decide to tackle that makes them happy, but from my personal perspective, I’m happy with the current state of e-publishing.

    1. thelastaerie

      I’m quite surprised to hear about your local bookstores, Tam. And you live in Canada! Most chain bookstores in UK carry GLBT section, big or small, you’ll find them. I remember one Borders even mixed gay mystery in general mystery – nice gesture but actually made it difficult for readers like me *g*. Even when I was in Hong Kong, the bookstore carried a few rows from Gay Men’s Press.

      But totally agree with you – for anything that has a niche audience, Internet is the best place to reach.

    2. Wave

      Tam

      Like Eve, I’m surprised that the stores in Ottawa/Carleton don’t carry m/m print books. I can get a wide variety of m/m print books in Toronto from well known authors e.g I was able to buy Transgressions from Chapters as soon as it was released. I suppose with Toronto being so gay friendly and the den of iniquity, that’s not surprising – sometimes the books are sold out as soon as they arrive. I would like a wider selection though.

      1. Tam

        I think Erastes book was in the general romance but outside of that, nothing. The only place you can buy them in person is the little tiny GLBT bookstore which has quite a few by the more well-known authors. The guy did say they “might” consider doing a disaply for Pride week but I thought their explanation of “not knowing where to put them” was a cop-out. I could see a small suburban book store not carrying them, but the main Chapters downtown? *shrug*

        1. Josh Lanyon

          but I thought their explanation of “not knowing where to put them” was a cop-out. I could see a small suburban book store not carrying them, but the main Chapters downtown? *shrug*

          Weirdly enough, in mainstream many decisions on manuscripts are driven by the question of: how would we market this?

          These days marketing managers determine as many acquisitions as editors.

          So the what shelf? question isn’t as odd as it might seem. It’s symbolic of a whole publishing mentality.

        2. Val Kovalin

          I was recently checking the shelves at two of the biggest independent bookstores in the United States, Powells in Portland, Oregan and the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado. The only m/m books they had were the Running Press books (e.g., False Colors by Alex Beecroft). I’m happy for her :) But a little disappointed for our genre in general in terms of bookstore presence. :(

          1. Josh Lanyon

            The only m/m books they had were the Running Press books (e.g., False Colors by Alex Beecroft). I’m happy for her But a little disappointed for our genre in general in terms of bookstore presence.

            It’s probably a case of chicken or the egg. Most of our readers read us in electronic format because that’s where most of the books they like can be found. But if more m/m books were on bookshelves would readers pick them up and start reading?

            The problem goes beyond our genre in that the majority of ALL books have a short bookstore lifespan.

    3. Josh Lanyon

      Tam, I think you represent the quintessential savvy reader of m/m fiction. You know what you like and you know where to find it.

      You’re a core reader.

      It’s a good thing.

  6. Cole

    Very insightful Josh, thank you.

    I was lost there until you gave me a baking analogy. Just kidding! I just love the sweets.

    Incidentally, I think we’re more sinful than blueberry pie… maybe devil’s food cheesecake?

    1. Josh Lanyon

      I was lost there until you gave me a baking analogy. Just kidding! I just love the sweets.

      You know I’m the kid in the back of math class who used to look at those equations and spend the next forty minutes mulling over why we were always being served blueberry and apple pies and never something I liked. :-D

      Incidentally, I think we’re more sinful than blueberry pie… maybe devil’s food cheesecake?

      So long as we’re not apple, I’m good.

      1. Angelia Sparrow

        Strawberry rhubarb is weird? I <3 rhubarb pie and live too far south for rhubarb.

        But yes, terrific article, and helped me clarify some of the stuff I've been mulling for a while. And the fact my target mainstream pub went all ebook/trade paper and has reports of money trouble helped decide.

  7. rdafan7

    Great post and I agree with so many of the readers’ thoughts on “mainstream” vs “indie”.

    I can understand where authors, like any other profession, want to expand their business, after all everyone wants to do well (and make money). I believe that as the m/m genre continues to expand, mainstream publishers will want to grab a part of the market.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      I can understand where authors, like any other profession, want to expand their business, after all everyone wants to do well (and make money). I believe that as the m/m genre continues to expand, mainstream publishers will want to grab a part of the market.

      It’s probably inevitable that we’re all prone to look to mainstream as the sign of real success — we all grew up reading print books from mainstream publishers and when we first thought of becoming writers, I think many of us had those old images of bon vivant writers downing cocktails and rubbing shoulders with other witty literary types.

      Alas, it’s a dying planet.

      You’re right about mainstream being willing to test the waters with niche fiction. This is always the pattern.

      And it’s generally followed by then trying to measure success by traditional standards.

      There’s no question the average Harlequin Blaze is going to outsell almost any “bestselling” m/m romance. But that’s like comparing oranges and apples. Or, er, blueberries and apples.

  8. Lissa

    I actually cringe away from a lot of the big name publishers and the writers who are sold in massive quantities. Not that they are bad writers, they are probably good, but I believe a lot more people are going against the norm now and creating a new norm. Which is why the brick and mortar stores are going the way of the dinosaur. We get tired of being pushed bad books or over marketed authors when we want something new and exciting, or at least partially original.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Good point, Lissa. I think the “new” reader is a very different animal than tradtional readers.

      I’ve been saying this for a long time — back when everyone was bemoaning how reading was dying and no one under forty was reading, I kept telling everyone I knew, but they ARE reading. They’re reading on the web — which is where they watch movies and listen to music and interact with their friends.

      This new reader has different ideas about what they want to read and how they want to read it. They have to investment in preserving a publishing status quo.

      1. J. Rosemary Moss

        Excellent article–and I agree about ‘new’ readers. I’m still in the ‘under 40′ crowd, and I can’t remember the last time I browsed a book store (regardless of whether that store carries LGBT fiction.) I talk to friends instead, check out review sites like this one, check out the Goodreads groups I belong to–that’s how I found your books, by the way–and then download my choices onto my computer or Kindle.

        So I can understand why social media is becoming so important for authors; I’m much more likely to hear of an author via some internet group than by catching their title on display at B & N.

        1. Josh Lanyon

          Social media is a vital part of the democratization of publishing. Blogs, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter — online discussion groups…these replace, to an extent, the role traditionally filled by print reviewers — and then some.

  9. Reggie

    Hi Josh, most of us also grew up reading print books from the library. I don’t know if your aware of it but you’ve made it to the shelves of the county library. They have two of your books, 6 copies each. I think this speaks to the effectiveness of your strategy (and writing of course) to reach YOUR audience and develope a strong following.
    Being in the library certainly expands your audience and market. Congrats!!

  10. Val Kovalin

    Great food for thought here. I’m especially fascinated by the question of why writers put so much work into publishing fiction at the level of either epublishing or mainstream.

    The return on a writer’s investment seems to be money (which could have been significant for m/m niche if not for the e-theft upload sites), prestige, and connection (the urge to express yourself and reach the readers emotionally).

    You mentioned here to Wren,

    I don’t know of anyone getting dropped from an ebook publisher for lousy sales, but a number of writers will get tired of not earning a lot and will move on to writing other things or simply move on altogether.

    I wonder if that’s true, that a measurable percentage of writers in any genre will give up writing because of not earning a lot. I think the emotional grip of the “prestige” and “connection” motives is unique to the writing profession and will make almost all authors who enter the publishing field fight to find away around the money issue and keep writing, especially with the new self-publishing options.

    So, unlike most professions that sort of clean themselves out and start anew when following the boom and bust cycle of supply-and-demand, in writing, there isn’t going to be a dropping away of writers when the demand shrinks.

    Instead, they’re all going to stay where they are, writing m/m and self-publishing if necessary. I’m not sure what this does to the traditional cycle of supply and demand you mentioned. How can we ever have a repeat of increased demand in m/m if we never lose any of the suppliers we gained during the boom period?

    We may even get that dreaded situation that my husband and I joke about: a ratio of 100 writers to every reader! :D

    Anyway, I’m curious about that, and, like Wren, I’m especially looking forward to your next article on this subject.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Val, I’ve written a little on this before, but I think many, many writers have unrealistic expectations — certainly when they start out.

      Writing is quite different from publishing. I have friends who gave up publishing in any serious way, but still write regularly.

      But more on that later — it’s such a great topic.

  11. Andi Deacon

    Since I got into proofreading for a boutique M/M romance press–one of the good ones–and have had a couple of short stories published there as well, I have come to believe that some of the non-mainstream publishers, at least, will begin to improve with regards to editing and polishing. I think (and hope) they will have to as more and more readers find them and as the sheer volume of work published in the genre gives rise to greater discrimination on the part of readers. I have to say, I have read many books from mainstream publishers the last few years with egregious errors in grammar and syntax–the sort of errors that throw me right out of the story. And it is certainly the case that ebooks, whatever the source/reader, are prone to many additional errors from scanning to the ebook format. I sometimes wonder if anyone even looks at amazon ebooks for the Kindle before they go out on the website. All young, booming industries undergo shakeouts and, ideally, leave behind the cream of the crop.

    I enjoyed your article very much, not the least because the parenthetical remarks (I love parentheticals) illustrated the complexity of the subject matter and the current state of transition in the publishing industry.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Andi, I read a lot of old and vintage mysteries, so I’m probably relatively tolerant of some of the inevitable copyedit mistakes that crop up. They’ve always been a fact of publishing and probably always will — not that this is a good thing, and obviously some publishers are more attentive to detail than others.

      I find myself more concerned with the lack of content editing in our genre. There’s an odd emphasis here on copyediting over content editing — as though all writers were born knowing pacing, plotting, developing character, etc. So long as there’s enough hot sex, to heck with character arcs!

      (Slight exaggeration, I know.)

      I have a suspicion that attitude arose from the fact that many of our original m/m publishers started out self-publishing, so while they were open to being copyedited (which was a frequent complaint of readers) they were more resistant to the notion of a good content editor sending them back to the drawing board.

      I feel like content editors are undervalued here in niche publishing — and a great content editor is perhaps one of the most important tools for success a new writer can have.

      1. thelastaerie

        Yes yes yes. I’ve come acrossed more rigorously content-edited fan fictions than some of the m/m book *g*. It still drives me crazy when a good story is ruined by inconsistency, bad pace and POV jumping.

        1. Josh Lanyon

          Yes yes yes. I’ve come acrossed more rigorously content-edited fan fictions than some of the m/m book *g*. It still drives me crazy when a good story is ruined by inconsistency, bad pace and POV jumping.

          And so it should.

          But in fairness to some of the publishers, they’re victims of their own revolution. If authors value creative freedom and they come to you rather than another publisher, just how hardnosed are you going to be — can you be — about content?

          Authors in this genre have practically as many options as the publishers themselves. Now that’s a very exciting dynamic for authors…Jordan Castillo Price is a perfect example of a talented author with an existing audience who got fed up and decided to become her own publisher.

          And she’s making it work.

          I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t see someone announcing a new m/m book from a publisher I’ve never heard of before. Many of these are self-publishing efforts or a band of friends getting together but a lot of them are just new publishers.

          With that much competition for and between the strongest writers…how tough are you going to get about demanding rewrites?

          Granted all a publisher needs is for a lot of writers to do okay. The individual writer needs to do more than okay to make a living.

      2. Val Kovalin

        I feel like content editors are undervalued here in niche publishing — and a great content editor is perhaps one of the most important tools for success a new writer can have.

        That is very true. I’ve been extremely lucky with my two editors! A good content editor can teach you so much that you can jump up several levels in your writing ability from one such experience alone.

        Maybe content editing hasn’t caught on across the board in m/m epublishing because it would delay what has always been a struggle to meet demand as fast as possible.

        1. Josh Lanyon

          That is very true. I’ve been extremely lucky with my two editors! A good content editor can teach you so much that you can jump up several levels in your writing ability from one such experience alone.

          Yes. That’s why there are legendary editors in mainstream publishing — editors crediting with “discovering” famous authors, editors authors followed from house to house, editors credited by the author with helping them reach their potential.

          But these were fulltime editors. They weren’t also running their own writing careers and they weren’t (usually) the publisher as well as the editor.

          Maybe content editing hasn’t caught on across the board in m/m epublishing because it would delay what has always been a struggle to meet demand as fast as possible.

          Maybe, but that argument could be used by mainstream publishers as well. After all, there’s an even greater public demand for those books!

        2. Josh Lanyon

          One other thought on this — just to prove that sometimes the exceptions are more interesting than the rules — one of the best editors I’ve worked with anywhere is Nikki Kimberling of Blind Eye Books.

          She’s both an author and an editor but with her it works. Maybe because she’s even more passionate as an editor than she is as an author? I don’t know that for a fact, I just know she loves the words and the work and the whole editorial process like few I’ve come across.

          I’ve had a lot of good editors here — I think my mainstream friends would be surprised at how just how good some of the editors are — but Nikki reminds me of editors you used to read about in books.
          ;-D

          Though maybe less eccentric.

  12. S.

    An absolutely fascinating (and informative!) read. As a reader, I never really spent time thinking about the differences between mainstream and indie/small publishing houses, but I do know that there are as many good books and not so great books in the mainstream publishing venue as there are in small publishing houses. The only difference is probably in the editing process, and I do think independent and small publishing houses have room for improvement, but that’s neither here nor there.

    To be quite honest, I have given up on buying physical books unless they’re textbooks for my grad classes – I am literally out of space! Frankly speaking, if they make an affordable ebook reader that is suitable for textbooks, I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, none of the ebook readers are up to the task as of now.

    To tie it back to the discussion at hand, I do think in the next 5-10 years, digital formats will overtake published books, and IMO that’s where every publisher should be headed. I do miss books sometimes, but the convenience of ebooks and ereaders (computers) just can’t be beaten.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      To tie it back to the discussion at hand, I do think in the next 5-10 years, digital formats will overtake published books, and IMO that’s where every publisher should be headed. I do miss books sometimes, but the convenience of ebooks and ereaders (computers) just can’t be beaten.

      No question in my mind as far as fiction is concerned. Text books, art books (pop up books!) it’s not that print will go away entirely, but the existing publishing world is built on shifting sand.

  13. Talia Carmichael

    Very insightful and terrific article. I agree with a lot you said. Deciding on mainstream being for you is a choice an author needs to make based on what they want in their career. But they also need to keep their expectations realistic. And I think that is the problem. Some authors expect them being mainstream will mean instant respect or recognition.

    In my opinion that is not true. It’s like expecting the water from your faucet will suddenly be magical and you’ve discovered the fountain of youth. You might wish it but in reality it is not.

    The reality is when I got to a book store (print or ebooks) there a literally thousands of books I don’t read or know about. Many authors I never even heard of. Just because you are mainstream doesn’t mean you will be recognized as an author all of a sudden. So if that is your expectation then I have some water that will make you young and vital to sell to you. (grin)

    The most important thing about being an author is putting out quality writing.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Talia, unrealistic expectations are the bane of most new authors. Partly it’s due to the great inequities in this industry. You have bestselling authors who become millionaires and you have authors earning a five dollar advance from Publish America — and then you have everything in between.

      We all hope for the best case scenario.

      The problem is we have a tendency to confuse milestones with destinations. (I was going to say gallstones, but…)

      So we think getting an agent means we’ve arrived. Or getting that first publishing contract. Or the first great review. Or the first award.

      And with each milestone we expect something to change. And often the change is cumulative and we won’t actually see the results for…years.

    2. Sarah Black

      The most important thing about being an author is putting out quality writing.- I agree with you, my dear, and would add that the most important way to be happy as a writer is to love what you’re writing. To adore your characters and your story, to want to race back to the computer as soon as you wake up to find out what’s going to happen next. I think it’s easy to confuse the happiness of publishing with what writing brings to us. Writing brings its own joys. (and I would vote for peach pie)

  14. Reggie

    I have a friend who own’s the local used-bookstore. He is prepaing himself for the time his business will close because of digital media. He says the younger readers are used to digital media and older readers are discovering the joys of LARGER print. *grin*

  15. Hope

    As much as I enjoyed reading your post, Josh, I understood very little of it. My knowledge of publishing and the likes would fit into a timble and still have room left over.
    As a reader only, and very new reader, I always thought that purchasing straight from the publisher netted the writer mort in royalties. So that’s what I always done.
    By the way Josh, as mush as I love your writings, the chances of you showing up on the library shelves down here in the “deep south” of the USA are slim to done. We are still ruled by the civil rights leaders from the 60′s, who decide the who, whats, and where for everyone. Folks down here still picket book stores, libraries, and clubs who do something not to their likings, so the only way to purchase M/M is over the internet.
    Very sad!!!
    (climbing down off soap box now.)

    1. Josh Lanyon

      As much as I enjoyed reading your post, Josh, I understood very little of it. My knowledge of publishing and the likes would fit into a timble and still have room left over.

      That’s okay, Hope. These posts of mine are mostly directed at other writers, so it’s great if you enjoy them, but no worries if you don’t.

      As a reader only, and very new reader, I always thought that purchasing straight from the publisher netted the writer mort in royalties. So that’s what I always done.

      That’s perfectly true — and thank you for making that effort.

      By the way Josh, as mush as I love your writings, the chances of you showing up on the library shelves down here in the “deep south” of the USA are slim to done. We are still ruled by the civil rights leaders from the 60?s, who decide the who, whats, and where for everyone. Folks down here still picket book stores, libraries, and clubs who do something not to their likings, so the only way to purchase M/M is over the internet.

      This is true. This is yet another reason why much of our particular audience is an ebook audience.

      It just blows me away when I think of people picketing bookstores and libraries for daring to cater to what others might enjoy reading. It’s one thing to voice your opinion — we all have that right — but when you actively set about preventing others from also expressing an opinion?

      That’s far more dangerous than any idea in any book.

  16. Cary

    So interesting to get your perspective as an author, Josh. As one of the few readers who doesn’t intend to publish my own mm work (lol to Val K re: “100 writers to every reader”), I’m grateful to the non-mainstream emarket because I can FIND mm work. My local bookstores carry less and less mm work. I scour the public libraries and used bookstores semi-regularly, for the occasional mm gem.

    Finding the ever-expanding trove of mm ebooks has made me a happy reader. I do wish that more of the new work from my old favorite mm authors from the print days would be available electronically — and at a competitive ebook price. (Thank you Richard Stevenson, Neil Plakcy, et al. for moving into ebooks.) As a mass consumer of reading material, I was thrilled to find that mm electronic books are generally so much cheaper than the print books. The publishers who want to charge mm niche print prices for ebooks are publishers I am currently steering clear of and hoping they change policies. Of course, I would like all my favorite authors to be rich (but not so rich that they retire from writing) and still like to see those ebook prices stay low.

    Turning back to the main topic, the mm authors I follow who have “mainstream” publishers no longer show up in my local bookstores, or they are so well hidden that I can no longer find them, except for their non-mm titles.

    And … “Somebody Killed His Editor” is on the shelf at the Sacramento Public Library. (They for sure didn’t buy it at a local brick and mortar bookstore!)

    1. Josh Lanyon

      So interesting to get your perspective as an author, Josh. As one of the few readers who doesn’t intend to publish my own mm work (lol to Val K re: “100 writers to every reader”),

      A unicorn! A unicorn!

      I’m grateful to the non-mainstream emarket because I can FIND mm work. My local bookstores carry less and less mm work. I scour the public libraries and used bookstores semi-regularly, for the occasional mm gem.

      I remember when Amazon first came on the scene and all at once I could find every gay mystery still in print. (At that time there were less than fifty titles!)

      Finding the ever-expanding trove of mm ebooks has made me a happy reader. I do wish that more of the new work from my old favorite mm authors from the print days would be available electronically — and at a competitive ebook price. (Thank you Richard Stevenson, Neil Plakcy, et al. for moving into ebooks.)

      Some of those books aren’t even available in print anymore!

      As a mass consumer of reading material, I was thrilled to find that mm electronic books are generally so much cheaper than the print books. The publishers who want to charge mm niche print prices for ebooks are publishers I am currently steering clear of and hoping they change policies.

      The thing that really troubles me are the mainstream publishers who want to fix the prices of ebooks so they don’t compete with hardback — but only want to pay writers the existing (pathetic) royalty rate. It’s that kind of thinking that put mainstream publishing on the endangered list to begin with.

      Of course, I would like all my favorite authors to be rich (but not so rich that they retire from writing) and still like to see those ebook prices stay low.

      I can’t speak for everyone writing in this genre, but I just need to be able to make a living. If I can’t make a living, I can’t afford to write more than a book a year. I don’t need to be rich, but I do need to be able to pay the bills without having a nervous breakdown.

      Turning back to the main topic, the mm authors I follow who have “mainstream” publishers no longer show up in my local bookstores, or they are so well hidden that I can no longer find them, except for their non-mm titles.

      That’s because the only mainstream gay pub left is Kensington. No. That can’t be right, can it?

      There’s Cleis but they’re not mainstream. Who’s left now? Somebody help me out here.

      No. I’m wrong because gay fantasy and spec fiction still find homes in mainstream.

      And … “Somebody Killed His Editor” is on the shelf at the Sacramento Public Library. (They for sure didn’t buy it at a local brick and mortar bookstore!)

      Probably not. In fact, it might well have been donated!

      1. Cary

        “That’s because the only mainstream gay pub left is Kensington. No. That can’t be right, can it?”

        I was thinking, e.g., of Louis Bayard, published by Harper Collins; Jim Grimsley, whose “Dream Boy” Simon & Schuster seems to keep out there; Stephen McCauley, Simon & Schuster; Armistead Maupin, lately published by “Harper,” according to Amazon. John Morgan Wilson, published by Minotaur, which I think is a mystery publisher? Is St. Martin’s Press gone now?

        Obviously, you’d be much more up on who’s who in publihsing than I am.

        1. Josh Lanyon

          I was thinking, e.g., of Louis Bayard, published by Harper Collins;

          Bayard’s one of my favorite authors, but he’s not writing gay fiction these days — I classify him as literary maybe literary crime fiction?

          Jim Grimsley, whose “Dream Boy” Simon & Schuster seems to keep out there; Stephen McCauley, Simon & Schuster; Armistead Maupin, lately published by “Harper,” according to Amazon.

          These are two well-established authors and again I think their work is more literary fiction than genre fiction. If I try and think how I would shelve them, I’d shelve them in literary fiction.

          John Morgan Wilson, published by Minotaur, which I think is a mystery publisher? Is St. Martin’s Press gone now?

          No. St. Martin’s is still operating and I think Minatour is still a healthy mystery fiction imprint? I know their original gay imprint — the legendary Stonewall Press — is long, long gone.

          Obviously, you’d be much more up on who’s who in publihsing than I am.

          I don’t know. I don’t get out much these days! :-D

  17. Kate McMurray

    Great topic! This is something I’ve thought about a lot. And I have a critique partner who is tremendously supportive, but every now and then he’ll say something like, “So you’re just doing this little indie thing for now, right?” Hrm.

    I used to work in mainstream publishing (which makes me want to defend it!) but based on what I know of the industry, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the current ways of doing business are… problematic, to say the least (Paying big advances, for example, when many books don’t earn them back, etc.) And a lot of analysis I’ve read is predicting that indie pubs are going to take over a bigger chunk of overall market share in the next decade. I’m very interested to see how it all shakes out.

    To address a couple of other things: I actually have been really impressed with all of the editors I’ve worked on thus far in my short career as a published writer—and I make a living as an editor, so I think that’s saying a lot! Maybe I’ve lucked out, but I think this is something that will continue to improve.

    And I’ve spotted Loose Id books at a few of the Borders here in NYC with my very own eyes. It’s NYC, granted, but that was pretty awesome.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      Great topic! This is something I’ve thought about a lot. And I have a critique partner who is tremendously supportive, but every now and then he’ll say something like, “So you’re just doing this little indie thing for now, right?” Hrm.

      Exactly! :-D

      I used to work in mainstream publishing (which makes me want to defend it!)

      Mainstream publishing does many things well — not least of which is turning out hundreds of thousands are really wonderful books each year. Indie publishing can still learn from what mainstream does right.

      but based on what I know of the industry, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the current ways of doing business are… problematic, to say the least (Paying big advances, for example, when many books don’t earn them back, etc.) And a lot of analysis I’ve read is predicting that indie pubs are going to take over a bigger chunk of overall market share in the next decade. I’m very interested to see how it all shakes out.

      I think it’s safe to say that a decade from now, the face of publishing will be almost unrecognizable. I’m sure not all those changes will be for the best, but some of them are bound to be good.

      To address a couple of other things: I actually have been really impressed with all of the editors I’ve worked on thus far in my short career as a published writer—and I make a living as an editor, so I think that’s saying a lot! Maybe I’ve lucked out, but I think this is something that will continue to improve.

      You know in all my years of publishing, I’ve only ever met one editor I couldn’t — wouldn’t — work with on any level.

      I think you’re right in that the quality of editing and editors — will continue to improve here across the board if only because (gulp) as the mainstream publishing scrambles for new footing, more editors (like the previous wave of authors) are going to be looking for new homes in indie and niche publishing.

      And I’ve spotted Loose Id books at a few of the Borders here in NYC with my very own eyes. It’s NYC, granted, but that was pretty awesome.

      M/M titles? I know we have Ellora Cave titles at my local bookstore, but they’re not M/M titles. In fact, the only gay fiction carried by my local bookstore is literary gay fiction. Ishwerwood, etc.

      1. Kate McMurray

        Yes, definitely m/m titles. Borders (in NYC, anyway) shelves them with GLBT fiction, which is usually a single bookcase, but still. ZA Maxfield’s St. Nacho’s was there for sure when I checked once at a Borders in near Central Park.

        1. Josh Lanyon

          That’s great. We’re definitely more limited in my corner of the world.

          There’s no question there’s still a print market out there for these books whether they come from indie presses or a larger press.

          The Adrien books continue to perform and Fatal Shadows is nearly a decade old now. Somebody Killed His Editor has done nicely in print and I think Strange Fortune did reasonably well — Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentleman has sold an unreal number of print books for a small press.

          So the market is still there for print — it’s just that the ebook market is growing *so* dramatically (and against the expectation of so many).

  18. Kim W.

    I had never heard of content editors before this article. Copy editors, yes; content, no. They sound like a gift from the heavens, someone to help streamline the pacing and straighten out the plot, like fairy godmothers/godfathers with red pens instead of magic wands. I wonder if many good ones exist in the indie publishing area.

    I’ve looked at many self-publishing presses and it’s staggering how easy it is to get a stack of books with your name on them. Pick your size, pick your cover, insert name and title, upload a .pdf of the manuscript and voila! Go to Smashwords, login and upload, tada! But that’s the thing… in some ways it’s too easy. It almost feels like a cop out; you don’t want to go through all the submission requirements and rejection letters so just print it yourself and be done with it. In some ways this can be a bad thing… but I’ve read too many well done self published books to think its all bad. ^_^

    It sounds like good gay/M/M fiction in print is hard to find, but I must have lucked out.
    The local Half Price Books has at least two shelves of M/M fiction at all times, and the rest of the bookcase in that area is dedicated to GLBTQ studies. Beecroft to Banis, Mitchell to Langley, and this is in Omaha, Nebraska. Granted the section is next to a solid wall of erotic fiction practically seething with hot pink and purple pheromones that make me blush.

    And the local Borders had Nicole Kimberling’s Ghost Star Night and Somebody Killed His Editor on a well populated GLBT literature shelf. I say “had” because they were bought quickly. ^_^

    1. Josh Lanyon

      I wonder if many good ones exist in the indie publishing area.

      Absolutely. I’d say the majority of content editors I’ve worked with here are every bit as good as any of my mainstream editors. But I think in general content editors — real content editors — are good at what they do because you don’t tend to become a content editor without understanding and appreciation for literature and storytelling.

      Now having said that, the demand for editors in this rapidly expanding genre may mean a percentage of folks who are essentially copyeditors at heart (and don’t really understand the fundamental differences) may be moved into editorial positions before they’re ready. That’s a possibility as in any quickly expanding industry.

      I know I love my editors. My editors help me write better books, they supply a sturdy shoulder when I’m hobbling — and I hobbled a lot last year.

      I think being a great editor is every bit as difficult and demanding as being a writer. A lot of it is experience and and studying of craft (just as it is for us)but some people are just born with the knack of being able to communicate with clarity — not just where a book is weak –but how to make it stronger *without* tampering with the author’s voice and style or diluting what the author wishes to say.


      I’ve looked at many self-publishing presses and it’s staggering how easy it is to get a stack of books with your name on them. Pick your size, pick your cover, insert name and title, upload a .pdf of the manuscript and voila! Go to Smashwords, login and upload, tada! But that’s the thing… in some ways it’s too easy. It almost feels like a cop out; you don’t want to go through all the submission requirements and rejection letters so just print it yourself and be done with it. In some ways this can be a bad thing… but I’ve read too many well done self published books to think its all bad. ^_^

      That’s why being published in mainstream is such validation. You’ve run the gauntlet. Your work is such that a large, impersonal business entity is willing to put money on your success.

      That doesn’t mean that every book published in mainstream is wonderful and every self-published book is crap. But there is undeniably something about having achieved that. It’s like climbing Everest. Climbing the hill behind your house is great too, but it’s not quite the same thing.

      So even if you shortly thereafter slip and fall and plummet to your icy death — you still made that climb.

      It sounds like good gay/M/M fiction in print is hard to find, but I must have lucked out.

      Online retailers have made it easy to find quality print books. They’re still there for those who want to read in print. And many do. It’s just that — in this genre — many more seem to want to buy in electronic format.

  19. Pia Veleno

    Thanks for the article Josh!

    I fell into M/M by complete accident and haven’t looked back since. Every once in a while I get a faint urge to dust off a GLBT YA manuscript, but then I remember how many ideas I have for this beautiful, sexy niche, and remind myself I don’t need anything else.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      GLBT YA is a niche healthy niche too! And it’s growing all the time. So if you decide down the road you want to branch out, why not?

      I never thought I’d write spec fiction, either. ;-P

  20. Neil Plakcy

    Great comments, Josh. I have been published in mainstream & indie, and have gotten much better content & line edits in the indie world.

    One thing I love about the e-book world is the fast response in terms of sales & royalties. Alyson’s contract, like many in mainstream, only provides a royalty statement about 15 months after publication. Until then, the author is flying blind.

    However, when I published Three Wrong Turns in the Desert with Loose Id, I had a statement in 3 months that showed readers liked the book & were buying it. That motivated me to write a sequel.

    With Amazon’s daily sales stats, I can see which of my self-pubbed books are selling and which promotional strategies are working. I couldn’t do any of this with my mainstream books.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      One thing I love about the e-book world is the fast response in terms of sales & royalties. Alyson’s contract, like many in mainstream, only provides a royalty statement about 15 months after publication. Until then, the author is flying blind.

      Loose Id does a particularly good job on the accounting end. Their statements are accurate and they’re in-depth. They’re some of the best offered by any indie publisher I’ve worked with.

      Figuring out royalties from a mainstream publisher? Good luck! Especially when you throw in basket accounting. Even my agent (back when I had an agent) didn’t seem to really know how to explain those statements.

      Which is another thing I like about indie publishing. In general you’re not going to have publishers attempting to hold royalties against POD books.

      Why? Because, as we’ve established, bookstores aren’t buying these indie books by the case — so the publishers certainly aren’t getting caseloads of returns — which means holding 40% royalties on POD books against possible “returns” is absolutely unconscionable.

      Doubly so in the case of publishers whose royalties already reflect monthly returns. It means regularly dinging the author while holding onto earnings against some imaginary tidal wave of possible future returns. The system is already stacked against the author, so that’s just plain old greedy using a mainstream business practice that simply doesn’t doesn’t apply to this brave new world of publishing.

      The tools Amazon provides — including the excellent royalty rate — guarantees I’ll be dabbling more and more with self-publishing myself.

  21. Nicole Kimberling

    JL–I find myself more concerned with the lack of content editing in our genre. There’s an odd emphasis here on copyediting over content editing — as though all writers were born knowing pacing, plotting, developing character, etc. So long as there’s enough hot sex, to heck with character arcs!

    NK–I think that’s because copyediting has a defined set of rules and source material whereas content editing is extremely difficult and has no handbook to cite to the author, so editorial persuasiveness is important. What I have noticed is that there exists a notion that all editing is an necessarily antagonistic activity that the editor or copy editor or line editor must win in order to be “professional.” And I think it’s impossible to edit for content with this attitude. (That’s just me, though.)

    JL– I have a suspicion that attitude arose from the fact that many of our original m/m publishers started out self-publishing, so while they were open to being copyedited (which was a frequent complaint of readers) they were more resistant to the notion of a good content editor sending them back to the drawing board.

    NK–Again I think that this might be because of the weird “Editrix” attitude leading to the issuing of directives rather than substanitive discourse on the work. Plus nobody likes to be told they have to do more work. There’s another factor too. As a person who has tried to give constructive criticism–on rejections, for example–the most common reaction is something like, “This is mine. I like it the way it is. Pay me first and I’ll butcher it how you want me to. I can always just put it up on Lulu,” which is fair, I guess, but doesn’t generally lead to expansion of a writer’s skill set. And ends up being a catch-22 situation for the writer who keeps getting rejected but doesn’t know why.

    1. Josh Lanyon

      NK–I think that’s because copyediting has a defined set of rules and source material whereas content editing is extremely difficult and has no handbook to cite to the author, so editorial persuasiveness is important. What I have noticed is that there exists a notion that all editing is an necessarily antagonistic activity that the editor or copy editor or line editor must win in order to be “professional.” And I think it’s impossible to edit for content with this attitude. (That’s just me, though.)

      I’ve only come across it twice with content editors and I know for a fact that one of them had no idea how aggressive she came across. I think one thing that would probably help is to take a leaf from mainstream where the word “suggest” is almost always used. Right there it changes the tone of the exchange.

      Also, on no account, no matter how extreme the provocation (and I’m sure it’s often extreme) should editors mock or be sarcastic in their comments. Not only is it unprofessional, it’s just waving a red flag in front of a bull.

      Example: Sunrise at six a.m. in London? On what planet?

      This is usually followed by the author digging up ten web pages of charts with sunrise, sunset, tides, etc. proving their point — and followed with an equally snotty comment.

      It really shouldn’t be an unpleasant, nervewracking experience for anyone involved.

  22. Nicole Kimberling

    Kim W–I had never heard of content editors before this article. Copy editors, yes; content, no. They sound like a gift from the heavens, someone to help streamline the pacing and straighten out the plot, like fairy godmothers/godfathers with red pens instead of magic wands. I wonder if many good ones exist in the indie publishing area.

    NK–According to one of my mentors, very few good content editors exist at all, anywhere. It’s a weird skill-set.

    Sometimes its like you’re the lawyer for the characters: (Editor to author:) “Why won’t you just let Mike kill Louie? It’s all he’s been talking about for 357 pages? Why are you withholding that from him now? I’m not saying that you can’t–I’m just saying that I don’t know how holding out on Mike supports the book’s master effect. Are you mad at Mike for some reason?”

    Other times you plead on behalf of the reader for less auctorial opacity, “Can’t you be compassionate to the reader? Give her a fighting chance at understanding what the character is thinking in this scene? In two sentences you could lessen the reader’s burden so!”

    Still other times you advocate for the whole work to the author, “Don’t second-guess yourself. It’s uncomfortable, but stay the course.”

    And sometimes you are the necessary straight shooter, and first-reactor to the MS: “I stopped reading closely on page 59 and skimmed until page 73. I think this section might benefit from some special scrutiny.”

    And a whole bunch of other stuff like that. If you want to know more about it, pick up “The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist” by Thomas McCormack.

    Kim W–….and this is in Omaha, Nebraska…..And the local Borders had Nicole Kimberling’s Ghost Star Night and Somebody Killed His Editor on a well populated GLBT literature shelf. I say “had” because they were bought quickly. ^_^

    NK–Hey thanks for that purchase! But did you just say that you bought my book from a store in Omaha, NE? No way! Never have I imagined actually being in a store in my natal state. (Sorry, about being off-topic here, but that is just wild. I was born in Scottsbluff, BTW.)

    1. Kim W.

      NK – …sometimes you are the necessary straight shooter, and first-reactor to the MS: “I stopped reading closely on page 59 and skimmed until page 73. I think this section might benefit from some special scrutiny.”

      - Honest and brutal. Like a friend that will admit “Yes, that makes your butt look fat. You should change.” I will definitely check up that book by Thomas McCormack.

      NK – But did you just say that you bought my book from a store in Omaha, NE? No way! Never have I imagined actually being in a store in my natal state. (Sorry, about being off-topic here, but that is just wild. I was born in Scottsbluff, BTW.)

      -Indeed I did! ^_^ Seeing it on the shelf was a surprise for me too. *Checks Borders inventory online* And it looks like they still have a copy in store for another lucky reader.

  23. Nicole Kimberling

    JL–but Nikki reminds me of editors you used to read about in books.
    ;-D

    Though maybe less eccentric.

    NK–Aw, shucks…

    That’s because I modeled myself after
    1) fictional characters and
    2) editors who last worked 65 years ago and so might as well be fictional characters from a contemporary perspective

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