By Susan Spann
When Writers in the Storm invited me to guest-post on the last Wednesday of every month, I knew at once what my ongoing topic should be:
Equipping authors to make informed decisions about their publishing careers.
As a publishing attorney, I work with a number of publishers as well as traditionally-published and agented authors, self-published authors, and independent authors who publish traditionally and/or through a variety of other publishing options. I’m often asked to advise authors (both new and experienced) about the range of available publishing options and what factors authors should consider when choosing between them.
In fact, one of the most common email questions I receive from authors is Which publishing choices are right for me???
Unfortunately, this is a question each author must answer for him-or-herself.
It’s also a question no author should answer without serious thought and adequate information – and information is something I can help to provide. In the months to come, my guest column here at Writers in the Storm will look at a number of legal and business issues impacting authors, how those issues present themselves in traditional and self-publishing arenas, and factors authors should consider when making the all-important choice between traditional, independent, and self-publishing options.
Today, we’ll lay the groundwork for that discussion with the three most important publishing principles.
1. The choice between publishing options is an individual decision which belongs to the author alone.
Only you, the author, can decide what path your career will take. You must accept ownership of that decision – as well as your writing career – before you can make more specific choices. For some, traditional publication is still the proper path. For some, self-publishing is the better road. And for others still, a combination of different options may prove to make more sense than choosing one option to the exclusion of all the others.
Many writers look at the publishing industry with fear and awe, as if their careers depend exclusively upon choices that lie beyond the author’s control. This is a myth – though not without a grain of truth. Those who choose the traditional road will be bound by the choices of agents and editors (just to name two). The independent author must abide by the rules of the company he or she elects to publish through. And every author is bound by the choices of readers – you can lead a book to market, but you cannot make it sell any more than the proverbial horse can be forced to drink.
Ultimately, though, your individual choices will form the cornerstones upon which your writing career will stand or fall. Before you can make those choices, you must acknowledge that you are making choices – and learn enough about publishing to recognize what is and is not appropriate for you.
2. No single choice is right for every author or every creative work.
Publishing is no longer “one size fits all.” The decision to pursue traditional publication, independent or self-publication, or some other option altogether is unique and fact-specific.
Before you make a decision, you must consider your short and long-term publishing goals, your platform, your audience, PR and marketing, legal issues, and budget – and you must consider these issues for every work you create. In many cases, your initial decisions will impact multiple works, so you may need to re-evaluate only when conditions change. However, that makes the initial decisions even more important.
Don’t rush to judgment about your writing career. Take the time to learn about your options. Decide among them based upon facts and analysis – not emotion. Publishing is a business – your business - and you must treat it as one.
3. In making choices, the author asserts and accepts responsibility for his or her choices – and the consequences thereof.
No choice is without consequences.
Every choice an author makes has repercussions for his or her career.
For example: the decision to pursue traditional agency representation and “big-house” publication almost always prohibits releasing the work for free download through the author’s personal website. Publishers are in business too, and most do not want to pay you to publish something you’ve already given the world for free.
Does that mean you should never make your work available free of charge? Not necessarily. But it does mean you need to think before you act and make decisions only once you’re prepared to accept the results of your choices.
Remember: “consequences” may be both good and bad, no matter which publishing path an author chooses. The point is not to avoid the bad entirely. There is no mystical fountain (or, if you prefer, no magical font) to protect you from bad reviews and worse decisions. You can, however, use the available information to make the best choices you can.
Are you ready to take control of your writing career?
If so – and even if your answer is “not quite yet” - hop aboard and join the discussion. Over the next few months we’ll explore the world of publishing options and factors an informed author should consider when choosing among them.
Next stop: What are my options anyway?
Tune in on April 25, when I’ll be discussing the difference between traditional publishing, independent (or “indie”) publishing, self-publishing and P.O.D. (And yes, from my perspective those are four very different options – though sometimes with overlap between them.) I’ll see you then, right here at Writers in the Storm.
Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author who practices in Sacramento, California. Her debut novel, in which a Japanese ninja and a Portuguese priest must save a teahouse entertainer accused of murder, will be published by Thomas Dunne in 2013. She blogs about writing and publishing law at http://www.susanspann.com and tweets @SusanSpann.