Friday, 31 August 2012

Yes, we are all independent

We're all independent, we authors. Whether we are self-publishing, or publishing with trade presses, or a mixture. Some people use the word "indie" for self-publishing, which reveals a misunderstanding of what being a "published" author is. And, for those of you who are looking for a publisher for your work, it's important to know.

Authors are independent. We're self-employed. No one can tell us what to write or even when, though we may well have discussions about it. If we want to write something that someone doesn't want to buy, whether that someone is a publisher or an actual reader, we all have to decide what to do about that - and we can choose to self-publish. Self-publishing authors also have to make decisions which may involve balancing the desire to attract readers and the desire to write exactly what they want, or ignoring one of those factors. It's what we all do in one way or another, as writers. No man or woman is an island. We're all inter-dependent in some ways, and independent in others. No?

I've written books for Walker Books, Hodder, Barrington Stoke, Egmont, Hodder Wayland, Snowbooks and some book packaging companies. Some of those have been simultaneous. I've never had problems moving from one to another and running simultaneous contracts, writing the sorts of books I want for the sorts of publishers who publish them. Neither I nor any of those publishers felt constrained in any way. These are business arrangements, entered into voluntarily, and some of the people I've worked with have become friends. They certainly haven't ruled me.

Yes, published authors have editors but not once has my editor ever forced a change I didn't want - not once in all my books and with any of my editors. Good editors show us how they think our work can be better but, if we disagree, they cannot force us to make the changes. There is, however, a sense of being part of a team, I agree. But I'd argue that a team needn't be a constraint, or, if it is, even that may sometimes be a price worth paying for the support.

Yes, a contract may include an option clause but an agent can get you out of a option clause. I regard option clauses as a statement of positive commitment, not a shackle. If they are handcuffs, the handcuffs are made of sugar strands. They break.

Yes, our contracts include details about foreign rights and many things we can or can't do. (Almost all of which are up for discussion and many of which my agent and I have had changed.) But that's because we've entered a commercial agreement for that particular book, and we have voluntarily sold something limited to the publisher, in return for certain services and commitments. Self-publishing authors also agree to contracts with Amazon or Lulu or Smashwords or whatever, or contracts with their cover designers or formatters etc. That's what you do when you buy or sell something. What we don't do is sell our souls, none of us, or not unless we want to.

I'm free to diversify, to experiment, to stretch myself, or to stay doing what I've been doing. OK, so I sometimes have to persuade people to go along with me, but that's fine. OK, so I have some obligations, but don't we all have obligations, unless we're utterly self-centred and arrogant? We have obligations to our readers, don't we?

So, authors are all independent. We're all free, not slaves.

And, incidentally, the more I allow a publisher to handle the publishing for me, the more free I am to write. Which is what I'm about to do. There are no guarantees that what I write will be accepted by a publisher - because it's new territory for me - but then I'll be free to decide what to do about that.

So, I don't need to call myself independent, because I am anyway. I'm happy just being called a writer. That's all that matters to me.


Pernille Hughes said...

Fine and true words Nicola.
And isnt it a privaleged position to be in too? In charge of one's creativity and for some their job? I hope to be published one day, but in the meantime, I thrive on the fact that what I write is mine to form and decide what to do with.

Will miss your blog Nicola, but am so very glad I found it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, Pernille. Sometimes, some self-publishing authors seem to imply they are the only ones with free will. There is, I agree, a different kind of freedom that comes with self-publishing (which I've done), but there's also a freedom that comes with being published and having aspects of the task taken on by someone else (when it works well), freeing one to write something else.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Well said, Nicola! We're all authors, regardless of how we get our work out there.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Oh good, now can we stop hearing that "indie" word everywhere? Because I am so very tired of it. It never has struck me as a good fit, and after reading your post, I see exactly why. Writers should excel at finding the exact right word to describe what needs describing. And "indie" just doesn't do it.

Cameron said...

Totally agree. Having a publisher is a wonderful relief for a newcomer, hands being held, directions being pointed out. Publicity for self-published is the reason I believe Twitter is becoming such a bore. Nothing but advertising. I thing it is a solution for someone who already has a "name" and is looking to do something different but having been through the process I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who just fancies seeing their name on the cover.
As has been said elsewhere "just because you CAN publish, doesn't mean you HAVE TO ".
Even with a publisher the author has to take responsibility for some of their own publicity - blog hops, guest blogs, seeking out reviews etc but as a self-pubbed one has all that and more. Which, as you say, is valuable writing time wasted.

Unknown said...

I know you've been published by a range of presses but, I was wondering, how many agents have you had? I'm currently working on my novel but after it's done I'll be going back to my Christian non-fiction book and then my children's book ideas. I'm thinking, in addition to needing different publishers for each of these I will need a different agent also. Is that correct?

Nicola Morgan said...

Ellie - I'm going to answer that as a short blog post tomorrow, along with the other question of your that i didn't answer!

Marie-Anne Mancio said...

I do understand where you're coming from but suggest the division was already there in the stigma attached to self-publishing. There are self-pubbed authors of literary fiction who have literary agents, who were almost published by the major houses but their fiction wasn't deemed marketable. Given how publishers have jumped on badly-written, self-published work (no example needed!) when it suits,the notion that they represent some kind of quality control is no longer tenable. The two don't have to be mutually exclusive, as authors are proving. But I think authors should support good writing wherever it comes from. And if using the label 'indie' helps change perceptions about self-published work then is it fair to begrudge it? Sorry, Karen but indie is a good term in that it connotes indie music, indie film etc.. other instances of production where artists took a DIY approach (even if those labels were later bought up).
Personally I look forward to the day the broadsheets' Culture sections catch up with book bloggers and start reviewing indie books. Would I also like my novel to be traditionally published? Yes. But as well as. Not instead of. (Sorry, didn't mean to write an essay!)

Mina Lobo said...

I absolutely agree with what Marie-Anne Mancio wrote: "Given how publishers have jumped on badly-written, self-published work (no example needed!) when it suits,the notion that they represent some kind of quality control is no longer tenable." Hear, hear! And I also agree that "indie" being applied to self-published authors makes sense, just as it does when it's used by/for musicians and filmmakers. Why is it different for self-published authors? They've published *independently* of a publishing house, yes? In fact, it isn't different at all, though some would have the world believe it is.
Some Dark Romantic

Nicola Morgan said...

My point is simple: all authors are independent. If someone uses the term "indie", all I'm saying is that this reveals a misunderstanding about what a published author is, and the fact that published authors are independent. I think it's an important point. So, I'm making a statement about the situation for published authors, as a point of info. Part of my effort to spread understanding!

Tommy Wallach said...

Major publishers do still represent quality control. Any other notion is willful denial of the facts. No books put out by major publishers are rife with spelling and grammar errors, and their plots are generally coherent. The majority of self-published books do not meet this threshold. That isn't to say there aren't plenty of great self-published books--there are--but the percentage of them that are viable pieces of literature (because so many of them are now released every year) is much lower than the percentage put out by major publishers. And most people who don't read genre fiction still want their literature vetted by the establishment. People who want to burn through five or six quick-paced romance/thriller/pulp books every month are much happier with the $1.99 Amazon model. (And I'm a fan of genre, by the way). But in terms of books that will stand the test of time, the vast majority are still coming through traditional print media, not the self-publication route.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Tommy. Sorry, only just saw your comment - I don't moderate comments but comments on old posts go into spam and I have to go looking, which I rarely do!

I agree btw.