Why Agents May Be Opposed to Self-Publishing

As you may have read, earlier this week Harlequin announced that it has formed a new self-publishing division called Harlequin Horizons with Author Solutions. This is similar to the announcement we made several weeks ago about WestBow Press. This has created quite a stir on the Internet.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/pixalot, Image #9351815

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/pixalot

What I find curious is that much of the backlash has come from agents. Their arguments against self-publishing basically boil down to three:

  1. Self-publishing dilutes the brand of the sponsoring company. In other words, people will think less of Thomas Nelson, because we allow books to be published under the WestBow imprint. Readers will think less of Harlequin because they will allow books to be published under the Harlequin Horizon imprint.

    I admit, this is possible. We certainly debated it internally. This is one of the reasons we elected not to include some version of our name in WestBow. We wanted to make a clear distinction between the two. WestBow is related to Thomas Nelson, but it is not Thomas Nelson.

    Having said that, readers don’t care about the publisher as much as authors and agents do. I have argued this repeatedly on this blog. Several readers always feel duty-bound to tell me how much the imprint name matters to them. I am not arguing that it is not important to some. You can always find an exception. I am just saying these readers represent a very, very small minority.

    Sidebar: Take the imprint challenge. Go to a bookstore and ask one hundred shoppers—people who love books enough to make a special trip to a bookstore—to identify the publishers of the top ten New York Times Bestsellers. Report back with your results.

    I can’t speak for Harlequin—I don’t even know anyone there—but I think we are fully capable of managing our own brand. We have been in business since 1798. We understand what our brand represents. It is mostly about innovation and refusing to accept the status quo. We see WestBow Press as fully within that tradition.

  2. Self-publishing will flood the market with poor quality books. More than half the books published in the U.S. today are self-published books. Very few of these find their way to bookstore shelves. Why? Two reasons. First, retail shelf space is finite. Retailers only buy a fraction of what is published. They just don’t have any more room to display more titles.

    Second, booksellers’ time is precious. The buyers who meet with publishers and buy books for their stores do not have time to consider self-published authors. In fact, most of them don’t have time to meet with smaller houses. While publishers have been quietly cutting the number of titles they produce, retailers have been cutting the number of publishers they buy from. This is simply a function of trying to be more efficient by focusing on the 20% that deliver 80% of the results.

    Yes, online retailing may change all this, because shelf-space is unlimited. But that’s where it comes down to a battle for the reader’s attention. This is the most precious, scarce resource of all. Merely having a listing on Amazon doesn’t guarantee anything. If you can’t get attention for your book, you still don’t have squat.

    Self-published books are not going to flood your local bookstore any more than YouTube is going to take over your local theater. But why should traditional publishers, agents, and industry trade associations—which I refer to collectively as “the guild”—care? We live in an age when technology and the public’s desire for self-expression make user-generated content viable. If people want to publish their own book through print-on-demand (POD), subsidy or vanity publishing, or whatever, why should anyone else care?

  3. Self-publishing rips off the authors. I find this surprisingly hypocritical. Where is the public outcry about publishers being ripped off? We have been investing in authors for years. Most of the books we publish don’t make money. A high percentage of projects don’t recoup their royalty advances. No one is coming to our defense. Why? Because this is something we chose to do—and will keep doing.

    Why is the author any different? If they want to make an informed investment in their own career (and I realize that the word “informed” is key), why should someone stop them? I get nervous when there are so many people who want to “protect” others from making these decisions. I find this paternal attitude condescending. I believe these people are fully capable of deciding for themselves which model of publishing they want to pursue.

    Many would-be authors don’t need a traditional publishing house. That’s the dirty little secret. They already have access to an audience and can reach it without the help of a traditional publisher.

    Yes, they can go to a POD supplier and get books cheaper than through a self-publishing or subsidy company. You can also build your own house, make your own clothes, or grow your own food cheaper than having someone else do it. But this is a personal decision, based on your goals and what you want to accomplish. For example, do you want quality packaging, editing, proofreading, and various marketing services? POD by itself doesn’t provide these.

    Also, some have questioned our intention (and Harlequin’s) to use our self-publishing imprints as a “farm league.” In fact, some believe it’s a ruse—a carrot that we are holding out to would-be authors, knowing full well that we don’t intend to publish any of them. Time will tell. However, I can tell you that we are actively looking even now at the early submissions. We know for a fact that we miss lots of opportunities. So do agents. This is a way for the cream to float to the top where it can get our attention.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I find it interesting that most of the resistance to self-publishing is coming from agents. Why? The primary thing an agent sells is “access.” I fully realize this isn’t the only thing, but I would argue it is the primary thing, especially for new authors. The agent offers access to acquisition editors who otherwise wouldn’t give a would-be author the time of day.

The problem with the self-publishing model is that it takes away the would-be author’s need for access. If they are not going the route of traditional publishing, then they don’t need an agent. Could it be that this poses such a threat to the agent’s business model that some feel a need to speak out against it?

As a form of user-generated content, self-publishing is a disruptive force that isn’t going away. It is arguably the fastest growing segment of publishing. It will ultimately impact everyone in traditional publishing. As a result, publishers are having to change and so are authors. Maybe it’s time agents took a hard look at their own business model and asked how they can add value in the new publishing economy.

Question: What do you think about self-publishing? A threat or just another option?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 Kyle Reed

    Its a great option for someone like myself to get in the game.
    What is tough is going through the process and the work and then have it sit on your shelf and only your family members buying the book because you do not have a publisher baking you.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Kyle I would argue that in any publishing scenario, a lot of the promotion is going to require the author's involvement and platform. The days of the author writing the book and the publisher marketing the book are over. Even if you get a traditional publisher, you have to be willing to work hard to promote the book.

      • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

        I can understand that, and I really do not have the best knowledge of that just what I have heard about.

        I think you are right, the author has to do the work and in all honesty I think they need some kind of platform established.

        I think that is where the publisher comes in for me, they give you a platform to stand on and build from. I honestly am working at building my platform, but to be able to align myself with a prestigious and well known publisher such as Thomas Nelson cannot hurt me in any way and maybe I am wrong but help me get a chance to promote the book and build the platform.

        Am I right on this one?
        Just wondering because I am working on a book proposal myself (thanks for the word doc you provide on how to write a winning book proposal) and have an uncle that self published and so I am looking for both sides.
        Thanks

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          I think it is more accurate to say they can leverage YOUR platform.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/MichaelSGray MichaelSGray

      Since WestBow is tied with a publishing company, does that mean that self-publishing through them makes you half-baked? ;)

    • http://www.fromgraveltoglory.com Gina Calvert

      Kyle, this can happen even WITH a publisher backing you. You are still expected to do the majority of the marketing.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

        Exactly.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Kyle I would argue that in any publishing scenario, a lot of the promotion is going to require the author's involvement and platform. The days of the author writing the book and the publisher marketing the book are over. Even if you get a traditional publisher, you have to be willing to work hard to promote the book.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/MichaelSGray MichaelSGray

    As an aspiring author, I find this post very valuable and informative. Truth be told, you have helped to remove some of the stigma that I have always associated with self-publishing. The brass ring will still be the ability to sign on with a publisher like Thomas Nelson, but the POD model offers a different pathway to achieve the same ultimate goal — to tell a story.

    I love your point that authors don't need to be patronized — that many are completely able to make informed choices on their own. Sure, self-publishing will make it possible for more painfully lame books to be in the marketplace, but it'll also open the door to potential literary sensations.

    I could go on, but I think the dialogue between you and "the guild" is what people would rather read. Thanks for the insight!

  • Scott Hunt

    I can understand how this will work for authors of non-fiction. But what about those of us who are unpublished fiction writers? How would we develop a "platform" that would entice an audience into reading our works?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      How do you build that same platform with a traditional house? This is a problem for novelists regardless of the publishing model. Just publishing your book and sticking it on a bookstore shelf does not guarantee sales.

  • http://www.raisetheeup.com Michael Holmes

    This is similar to Rupert Murdoch's position on social media. People can get news for free, its cutting into his monopoly, its gotta go! Or, we gotta find a way to make money off of it.

    I personally don't see what the problem is. People who've been long rejected by "traditional publishing" decided, "You know what… I've got something to say, I've the got money, I'm gonna say it." Now that its gotten cheaper–its become more accessible, and thousands are flocking to it.

  • http://www.raisetheeup.com Michael Holmes

    I personally would put more value on self publishing than on traditional publishing:

    1. You, as the author, retain the rights to YOUR work.
    2. You keep the lion's share of the profits. And especially with the Amazon and Wal-Mart fiasco that is even more significant
    3. Whether traditional or self…you have to do your own marketing anyway. A traditional publisher may help…but its up to the author to move his or her product (please correct me if I'm wrong in anyway Mike)
    4. Bestsellers are found in traditional as well as self publishing (ie "The Shack" "Rich Dad Poor Dad"–to my knowledge they were initially self published)
    5. The technology of self publishing is getting better everyday. Which means faster made better looking books.

    Granted, traditional publishing does have better distribution channels…this can change as well if not careful.

    These agents, rather than arguing about the changing world should adapt to the changing world.

    Just my thoughts;)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/halhunter halhunter

    History is full of examples of new technology disrupting established business models. It is also full of examples of existing stakeholders opposing change- sometimes they postpone the inevitable but they never prevent it in the long run. The truth of the agents' arguments in an unlisted number 4- they fear their ox being gored, and their income and influence being limited. I think Thomas Nelson and Harlequin have made the right decision- to be part of shaping the future rather than resisting it.

  • http://www.kbhyde.com Katherine Hyde

    I think self-publishing is a viable model for nonfiction, but I think fiction still needs gatekeepers–as well as financial support. I would hate to see us come to a place where getting published depends on the author's pocketbook more than on his talent. In my experience as an editor, the more desperate an author is to get published, the less likely he/she is to have the humility to submit to professional editing. End result: more trees wasted on junk.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I personally don't think it has to be either/or. I realize that The Shack is an exception, but every publisher I know, including Thomas Nelson, passed on that book. So the author self-published. The rest is history.

      The problem with the gatekeepers is that they are always chasing some version of what has already worked. As a result, books like The Shack or Same Kind of Different As Me (which was turned down by 50+ publishers, including us three times!) languish in the slush pile. I don't think it is because these authors write poorly or are unwilling to be edited. It's because the gatekeepers, overworked as they are, take the path of least resistance and publish books that resemble those that worked in the past.

  • Readergirl

    Publishers use professional distributors to get their books (your books) into bookstores across the nation. Self-published authors have to do this store by store on their own. Traditionally published authors are paid for their books. Self-published authors pay others to produce their books. Platform or on platform those facts remain. Everything else is just talk to make a frustrated writer feel better. Self-publishing is a good option if you just want to be able to say, "I'm published." And selling your book out of the back of your car (or from your tiny knook on Amazon) sounds like a fun (if not costly) adventure to you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dorannadurgin Doranna Durgin

      That's a nice summary. Pretending that publishing and self-publishling have the same results, mean the same thing, and are the same experience in any facet whatsoever is a total disconnect. It would be more accurate to say the former is being published, and the latter is being printed. If it serves your needs, do it and be proud of it–if not, it's the wrong choice. And if you have to pretend it's the same thing, then it doesn't fulfil your needs as what it is, so look twice. PS Stick with self-publishing, not a vanity press, unless you're looking for a way to bleed money. (If you don't offhand know the difference, go thee and do research before climbing into anyone's cheering section.)

  • Michelle Wolfson

    Interesting post. I actually agree that the majority of readers do not know the brands of the publishers. The one overwhelming exception to this, I believe, is Harlequin. For whatever reason, I believe that Harlequin is a brand that is recognized not just by its audience, but by women and men alike of all ages. And for that reason alone, I had a little bit of an issue with what Harlequin wanted to do–where by using their name together with Horizons to market it to authors, but then not at all for branding the books or selling to the public, they appeared to be promising the authors something that they were not, in fact, delivering. Otherwise, I have very little issue with Harlequin, Thomas Nelson, or anyone else going into the self-publishing business. Perhaps that makes me the exception among agents, but I feel confident that I add value to my clients, and I believe that they agree. I also turn down (as do all agents) an overwhelming majority of people who contact me, and for some of them, self-publishing may be the route to go. So I think the real mistake was trying to mislead authors who thought they were working with Harlequin, not in offering people the opportunity to self-publish.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Actually, I agree with you. Harlequin is a consumer brand. There are a few others, too. In fact, “Tommy Nelson,” our childrens imprint, was a consumer brand. We initially killed it when we combined all of our other brands, but recently brought it back because we realized that consumers wanted it.

      • Michelle Wolfson

        Well so a direct comparison would be if you were to open a self-publishing arm for children's book writers and call it Tommy Nelson West Bow and let them think that they were somehow getting the power of the Tommy Nelson brand, but then of course not putting that logo on it, putting any marketing behind it etc. Again, this is not a criticism of self-publishing. I believe it's very much-it is what it is–which is completely fine as long as authors KNOW what they are getting into and getting out of it ahead of time. And I honestly feel it's the right choice for many. But what rubbed me the wrong way was the implication that they would be Harlequin authors when they really weren't in any true sense of that phrase.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          I understand. Thanks.

  • http://www.jimbreslin.com Jim Breslin

    Michael –

    After reading your post, and then reading Rachelle Gardner's perspective, my first thought is that self publishing can help build the brand of publishers. As an avid reader, I currently do not check who the publisher is before buying a book. However, if there is a flood of self-published material out there, eventually the name of the publisher may become a more decisive factor in what books I purchase. Interesting viewpoints. Thanks for sharing both.

    • http://blog.greggstutts.com/ Gregg Stutts

      Great point, Jim.

  • http://marlataviano.com Marla Taviano

    As a published author with relationships with editors at several publishing houses, I actually have "access." What my agent (Rachelle Gardner) provides for me goes beyond that: wisdom, advice, experience, and brilliant editing suggestions to make my work better. And bless her heart, she doesn't even get a penny until I sell a book! I know that when I sign my next contract, my book will be so much better than it was before Rachelle.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I agree. And Rachelle is one of the very best.

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  • jim duncan

    Part 1. I don't think self-pubbing is a threat. There are more quality books out there than houses can afford to acquire. Most writers however are not informed enough, don't understand the process enough, or realize just how next to impossible it is to achieve any kind of success in publishing. I'm not saying writers are stupid either. Most are smart folk who just want to write and publish their work, and if fortune smiles upon them, make something successful out of it. ____

  • jim duncan

    Part 2. The odds are stacked against writers to begin with. It's difficult (far more than most realize) to write a good book. Nevermind the fact that a good book just doesn't really cut it anymore. It has to be a great book (of course there are exceptions) to make it in traditional publishing. Publishers can afford to be choosy. There are far more good books written than there is room for on the shelves. Kind of makes self-publishing sound like a reasonable option.

  • jim duncan

    Part 3. Problem is, there are more books out there on the shelves than there are readers to read them. Even the traditional market struggles to garner the attention of readers. Making tens of thousands more available through self-publishing certainly isn't going to do anything to make this issue better. If anything it's worse.____Of course, one can say that more choice is good, but when readers already have a mind-numbingly large choice to sift through, more isn't better. It's just annoying. The traditional pubs have a system in place, that while certainly faulty, provides readers with the perception that they can be reasonably assured of finding something worth reading in their local store.

  • jim duncan

    Part 4. Currently, there is no system in place to adquately curate self-pubbed material, at least not that I've seen. I avoid it. I have enough to sort through in the brick and mortar realm to keep me happily reading for the rest of my life. Point is, I don't think readers need the self-pubbed market. Sure it's great on the creation end of things, since more writers can see their work in print. Fact of the matter is though, 99% of them will never see a dime from their work, and it has nothing to do with them being worthy of it. The market just doesn't have room to support their success.____

  • jim duncan

    Part 5. So, while the vanity/subsidy folks can say that it is choice they are offering, the fact is, they all know that nearly all writers who come to them will lose money. They won't sell, despite intention, money, and effort. They know what services they provide won't have any kind of significant impact on the writer's chances for success. I'd say they hamper more the help because they make it nearly impossible to earn money back. Self-pubbed authors will almost never earn back from vanity/subsidy presses because they pay such huge upfront fees and get half or less in royalties off the net. All the risk is on the author, and the vanity press makes money regardless, whether they sell one or a million copies.____

  • jim duncan

    Part 6. So, I'd have to say they are a disservice to writers, bordering on scamming them, because most writers are not going to come into it with open eyes. They'll see the glossy site and all of the "services" provided, and empty their bank accounts blissfully unaware that their chances for success are not being significantly impacted by their investment, not in any proportion that makes sense. The vanities can spout choice and professionalism all they want, but in the end, the vast majority of writers going that route are still going to end up fleeced out of their money because paying for a one in a million chance is not really a choice at all.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrishuff chrishuff

    A blogger once gave this advice; "before you write a blog post, ask yourself if someone else would benefit from reading it." Having read that, whenever I start to write, I ask myself if a reader of my web site would find any interest in the topic. If the answer is no, I don't write what I had planned.

    I'm reminded of that when I think of self-publishing versus not. If I don't care what people think of my drivel, I would be apt to use self-publishing as either the only way to get my book out or as a backup plan in case a publishing company didn't deem the book worthy of publishing. In short, if I didn't care what others thought, I'd be more likely to do whatever I could to get my book published – just to say I've published a book. Most likely, the book would get a limited printing and disappear from existence in a short period of time.

    Now let me contrast that with an author who has written excellent material (educational, entertaining, etc.) They could go either way – self-publish to share with as many people (friends) as quickly as possible or push it in front of a publisher because they believe it's something that "the masses" would enjoy – heck, even a sub-set of the masses. In either case, the point is the quality of the product is more important than the distribution of the product to the masses. In some cases, the "quick self publishing and word of mouth" could turn into a "big contract with a publisher" because the reader-base has taken off through word-of-mouth.

    I feel I've glossed over a lot and perhaps have not done your blog post justice with my limited thoughts. Maybe my point is just this – a book isn't worth publishing by anyone (self or other) if the book doesn't benefit at least one other person. So let's put the focus on the authors and demand they evaluate why they think their book is worth reading.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      No argument with that. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/CGrantAndCo @CGrantAndCo

    Important post, Mike. Agents that only sell "access to publishers" will continue to stiff-arm self-publishing. Reason: Publisher commissions are the primary way they earn a living. That hasn't changed since Nelson roamed the streets in Scotland. But there's a new model that has emerged:

    "Literary and marketing" firms like ours sell "access to the market." Sometimes it's best done with publishers who handle the whole publishing process, including the back-end marketing and sales tasks. There's lots of value there and authors pay a lot for it.

    But sometimes getting to the market can be done through other channels, including the authors' platform, social networks, speaking, etc. with other partners or through author-sponsored promotion. Especially if the project is time-sensitive or highly specialized or not in a niche where a publisher name drives credibility. The increased revenue from self-publishing can pay for the promotion. New firms like ours earn our share through publisher commissions on the one side or through consulting, marketing programs or revenue sharing on the other. (Westbow's affiliate program is not a real source of revenue for an agent, so our income has to come from somewhere else.)

    Your two-pronged approach allows us the freedom to determine what solution best fits the authors' objective and the type of project we're dealing with. Either way, you earn revenue, authors sell books, and agents get compensated.

    Win-win.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      That totally makes sense. Agents who get this will survive and even thrive in the new publishing economy. Those that don't will become extinct. Just like pubishers who insist on maintaining the status quo. Thanks!

  • http://rosacola.blogspot.com Rocco

    I like that you don't fear "change" Michael. Doing your best to embrace it, riding the "tides of change" to success. So many drown fighting against the "tides", instead of finding the ways it can better their life.

  • http://blog.greggstutts.com/ Gregg Stutts

    Mike,
    Thanks once again for your honesty and insight. I also read Rachelle Gardner's post, so thanks for posting the link on your FB page.

    I think the bottom line is that everything has changed. There's no going back–not in publishing, not in music, not in film, not in anything. We can accept new realities or fight against them (and lose) while longing for the good 'ole days.

    I'm offended by the argument that someone has to look out for the poor, unsuspecting reader by deciding what's worthy of being published and what isn't. I don't need warning labels telling me to not put plastic bags over my head and I don't need to be protected from bad writing.

    For those who are concerned about large numbers of poorly written books entering the market…take heart…word of mouth spreads faster than ever today. People know which films are worth seeing after just one day. They'll know which books to buy, too.

    • Ken Stoll

      great points.

  • Robin Lee Hatcher

    I blogged about my concern which has more to do with the lack of editing and my experiences with the same.

    http://is.gd/4ZO6X

    Robin Lee Hatcher

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      You can certainly get your book into print without editing. However, self-publishing doesn't require this. You can get as much editing or as little as you want. It's all a function of what you want to pay.

      Also, I’m sorry to say that traditional publishing doesn’t guarantee good editing. I could tell you numerous horror stories. A few very prominent authors won't even allow their manuscripts to be edited. They are successful, but they would be SO MUCH better if they allowed an editor to improve on their work.

      All this to say, I don't think there is a necessary correlation between the mode of publishing and the quality of the editing (or lack thereof).

      • Lauren Sylvan

        Thank you for that reasoned comment. Just as there is no guarantee that commercially published books will be produced to a standard of excellence, there is no certainty that alternative publishing must be to a lower standard. The likelihood of poor quality may be greater, but that all depends on the person making the decisions. There are excellent services available a la carte, including editing. A quick inspection can screen out the real duds, and for the others — well, as somebody mentioned earlier, word-of-mouth rules the new marketing.

      • Colleen Coble

        I have to say though that traditional publishing has VERY good editors. I've met most of them and they are amazing! I actually have the best in the business, Ami McConnell. An editor with her gifts is a rarity. I do agree with you that unfortunately some authors don't realize the real value of good editing. It's crucial, especially in fiction. I can't imagine that ANY self publishing venture is lucky enough to have an editor with Ami's gifts. One of the reasons I'm doubtful is that an acquiring editor has some authority over the finished product. Most of us want to please our editor and we listen because we respect her. With a self publishing model, the author is in the driver's seat and most would push back against it because they don't understand the real value. So even if you happened to be blessed enough to have a gifted editor, their hands would be tied. The power dynamics are different, to the detriment of the book. :-(

  • Ken Stoll

    …have enjoyed your blog for a couple years now Michael. Don't comment much but this post has my attention. Reminded me of a proverb I posted via twitter yesterday, "Snivelling folks always want to wipe other folks' noses." Anyways, as you cite, over half of the books published today are already self-published so I'm not so sure why agents feel such a need to protect wanna-be authors like me from ourselves, the reading public, gigantic retailers, or successful publishers like Thomas Nelson? Maybe this new trend/movement will mean better self-published works for all we know? Rachelle Gardner may be the best agent around, I wouldn't know. But I found her thoughts typical.

  • Ken Stoll

    also, having been in sales most of my working life I might know a thing or 3 and since agents are pretty much glorified sales people in my mind my guess is that one big reason agents are reacting negatively is that they might have to work harder and will be able to do less cherry picking. They might be forced to use convenient excuses less when letting broke and desperate authors down… "it's a down market", "this failing economy means only established authors and recognized figures like Sarah Palin get book deals", 'everything is going digital, no one buys books any more"… And then my favorite, "there are too many other good books out there." Really? Seriously! And what about all of the predictable and shallow books that get published just because_____? Is "quality" the real argument here I ask? Is an agent gonna tell me he'd pass on representing an author they didn't believe in when she will put 10 x's the money in their pocket than someone they feel is "quality" given the choice?… Who is fooling who? I understand agents have a reputation to uphold with publishers, but come on.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I promise, dear readers, I didn't put Ken up to this. ;-)

      • Ken Stoll

        hope I didn't say too much or stir up the pot too much Michael. I've just heard it all and it just makes me scratch my head and think… or punch a wall and scream.

  • http://true-small-caps.blogspot.com/ Derek

    Torstar has a new CEO this morning. That company is in a difficult position, with a declining newspaper business and half a billion dollars' worth of debt to service. Harlequin is their cash cow.

    The main concern I've seen on the blogs (apart from the branding issue) is that Harlequin will mislead people into thinking that vanity-published books have a significant chance of becoming commercial successful.

    There are also concerns that Harlequin will redirect authors to its vanity services in a bait-and-switch move.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Next, these same people will be calling for government regulation. Poor, stupid writers. Some how they are smart enough to write a whole book but can't be trusted with how to publish it.

      • http://true-small-caps.blogspot.com/ Derek

        LOL, yes, fair enough

  • J. Mills

    Here's my offensive comment not meant to offend, but provoke thought.

    As an aspiring author, I see self-publishing vs. authentic publishing akin to marriage vs. hiring a prostitute. Roll with me here.

    Getting published legitimately, like marriage, requires hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance. The payoff to the marriage relationship is like getting legitimately published. The return on investment is huge.

    Self-publishing is like hiring a prostitute. It's quick, easy, doesn't take hard work, and always ends up costing you much more than you ever wanted to pay.

    You don't develop a true relationship with a prostitute. In kind, being self-published doesn't make you a published author.

    Both just make you poorer.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt michaelhyatt

      That's a compelling metaphor, but I really don't think it's fair. The money changes hands either way. It's just a question of who is doing the paying and who is getting paid.

  • http://www.robinleehatcher.com Robin Lee Hatcher

    I blogged about my concern which has more to do with the lack of editing and my experiences with the same.

    http://is.gd/4ZO6X

    Robin

  • Ken Stoll

    Jim Duncan makes some good points but I think to a fault. Let me speak for those of us who write for more than money or fame. Our benchmark may not be a million copies sold but say 20,000… name what you like. What I'm saying is that there's always a good excuse to not go to work and land a legitimate author a book deal and this lends itself to the argument for good self-publishing options. How many great authors give up on hopes of getting published (doesn't make them less of an author)? You might say tough luck. Well, I say too bad. As I point out, how many agents would prefer working harder to get a viable and worthy project a decent look over accidentally landing the latest media sensation? This new trend could be one more prodding besides the economy some agents need to give aspiring authors a second thought before they pass on them. And maybe, just maybe, books by the same old authors about the same old subjects might finally get pushed to the side as a result. I'd read a great self-published book over a good published book every day of the week and bet my last penny I'm in the vast majority as Michael suggests.

  • Ken Stoll

    continued… I just think the outstanding unpublished authors pool is bigger than the agents willing to roll up their sleeves pool. How many agents honestly put in the real sweat equity needed to get a deal for an author who may just be the next Donald Miller, Buechner, Yancey, or Anne Lamott?… Answer: 4 of them (that is if all 4 had an agent to begin with). Safe don't cut it if you want to score big but safe is safe. That said, self-publishing might get us authors and books that aren't so safe. From the tones being laid down in blogs by agents (and I read the post by Rachelle Gardner) and self-professed experts safe is the path they choose 98% of the time and the reason West Bow and others that come after it are long overdue–in my not so humble opinion. Writers like me who may not have the credentials (and dirt under my finger nails) which agents look for but have a viable audience as well as their own set of marketing skills may now have another option besides shoddy self-publishing. Yeah, perserverance is great as Rachelle points out and editing with its countless re-edits is much needed, but for every Moby Dick that got published after being rejected to death, I wonder how many didn't?

  • http://www.moonboatcafe.com Cassandra Frear

    I am not committed in one direction or another. I am waiting to see how this plays out. I would guess that a lot of writers are quietly doing the same.

    In general, freedom is a good thing. This is about freedom. Personally, I have been taken aback by the vigorous response to this new development. Self-publishing has been an option for writers for over a hundred years. I suppose the concerns are mainly over access and legitimacy.

    You bring up some good points in your posts. They should become part of the debate, wherever these issues are discussed.

    • http://backcountrywriter.wordpress.com Carolyn Barbre

      Quietly doing the same Cassandra. Good guess.

  • http://www.swanrange.com Carol Buchanan

    I self-published my novel, God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, because no publisher or agent I contacted was interested enough to read more than the title and reject it, probably because of the setting — Montana in 1863-1864. They labeled it a Western, or historical, and weren't interested. At least, those who were polite enough to reply weren't interested.

    The novel subsequently won the 2009 Spur Award for Best First Novel from the Western Writers of America and has garnered favorable reviews everywhere. (See my Web site: http://www.swanrange.com.) It is, I might add, far from the traditional Western in which two men at war end up in a shootout on Main Street. I nailed it as tightly to the history of Montana as I could.

    Mr. Hyatt is quite correct. Good writers whose work is neither fashionable nor easily pigeonholed do not need agents or publishing houses.

    My first three (nonfiction) books have all been published by well-known houses. One was a top ten finalist for the Washington State Book Awards in 2002, but I have yet to make a dime on it. The other two were stuck in a catalog and forgotten. They are out of print and I have re-acquired the rights.

    I self-published God's Thunderbolt in order to control my career. I'm open to other avenues, but I'm entirely willing to self-publish the sequel, Gold Under Ice. My readers, bless them, are bugging me to get it into their hands, but I will sell no book before its time.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for this real-life story, Carol. The guild likes to dismiss writers that don’t pass through their filter. It’s nice to see someone break the mold.

  • http://www.tabithas-team.com Kelly @Tabitha’s Team

    I agree that self-publishing is a great option for non-fiction authors with an audience who really don’t need to give a cut to a publisher.

    However, the real reason I am commenting is that I just love your line about YouTube. Laughed out loud.

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  • http://www.d2entertainment.com Dennis Disney

    I look at authors and publishers similarly to how I view indie artists and record labels. It's almost like authors and artists (especially the newer ones) possess a fundamental flaw: they don't understand that they are a business entity in and of themselves. They don't see that book and record deals are simply means to an end (not the end themselves). It's imperative that authors (especially first time authors) and indie artists establish their respective definitions for success. They must clearly identify what their individual end-game is. Then, and only then, can they truly decide whether to self-publish, vanity publish or pursue a traditional publisher.

    Establish publishers (and record labels) exist for those creators whose talent and business plan can be legitimately served by the corporation. Issues such as advances (if any), royalty rates, marketing prowess, etc., etc. must inform the author's/artist's business decision. "Will the deal – and the particular publisher/label – help me achieve my goals faster? Will this deal generate more revenue back to my company? If so, how much more and how fast? What will this deal mean for me next year? Three years from now? Five years?"

    Self-publishing (and I'm a big fan of POD) can actually help an author achieve more of his/her goals (and faster) if entered into with a solid plan. This is especially the case when you realize that most first-time authors are not getting advances anyway. So, with digital distribution channels readily available, a strong work ethic and, of course, writing talent, POD (in my opinion) can generate the same revenue back to an author with only having to sell 1/10 (or less) the number of books as a traditional publisher does. If the goal is to maintain control, keep a huge percentage of the net, and build your own buisness, POD is a great channel to explore.

    Yes, POD requires you to do your own editing, marketing, cover design, etc., but these services are readily available in the "free agent" nation. And they don't have to be exceedingly expensive.

    All to say, traditional publishing can co-exist with self-/vanity publishing. It should be approached first and foremost by the goals of the writer's own entity.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Good comments, Dennis. The focus on goals and outcomes is critical.

  • http://www.generatornetwork.com Mike Rapp

    The reason many agents (and managers) don't like self-publishing is because self-publishing printers don't offer advances and don't invest in marketing. Agents want a payday when a contract is signed, and don't want to have to do the marketing hand-holding after the fact.

    And it's a valuable thing to take into account. In my experience, many authors and artists see the ability to control creative and "keep all the money", but fail to realize that without a marketing budget (and the staff to put it into action) they don't really have a book "in the market." Most of them have about 1000 books "in their garage."

    I know many a manager/agent who talked a good game about controlling their creative assets, but at the end of the day didn't want to have to risk their own money in the marketing of the project.

    Publishing companies are becoming less about printing, stocking and shipping books, and more about creating and marketing them. Which, I would argue, is the best thing to happen to the industry in our lifetime (at least).

  • http://twitter.com/zumayabooks @zumayabooks

    I've been listening to this debate for going on a decade now, because it's basically the same argument lodged when the independent ebook publishers began setting up shop. I'll tell you what I've learned.

    There is a mindset within the writers' community that seems to suggest that if the path to publication becomes too easy, their achievement will be lessened in inverse proportion to the number of alternative ways to reach the goal. They say that an author has to "pay their dues" by struggling for years seeking the brass ring of agent and/or publishing contract (for which read "with a mainstream publisher").

    In other words, by limiting the number of channels via which the goal of being published can be achieved, the goal thus acquires a high value. If, however, alternative channels arise, their achievement is somehow diminished thereby. It's a mindset with no basis in logic, and no amount of logic presented to contradict it will change it.

    If you read the entries into the Harlequin debate closely, you'll see this mindset in action, just as it can be observed reviewing the antics of the writers' organizations as they fight to keep the non-mainstream-published riff-raff out. One of those organizations "unrecommended" a number of small presses several years ago by the expedient of changing their criteria for membership.

    A representative of one such organization admitted when I placed the question that they were aware when adopting new criteria that someone who receives the minimum advance and a print run is thus qualified for membership even if not a single copy was sold, whereas someone with thousands of dollars in sales whose books were printed on demand is not.

    The issue of self-publishing is not amenable to sensible discussion because it has no real logical basis.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is precisely why I call the publishing establishment “the guild.” It happens in every industry. The guild exists to provide hurdles, keep the riff-raff out, create artificial scarcity, and protect it’s own members. It happened in the film and music industry, the newspaper and magazine industry, and now it is happening in the book industry. These are not all parallel, of course. There are important nuances to each. Regardless, I don’t find an elitist argument to be that compelling in the end. Let the people decide!

  • http://twitter.com/zumayabooks @zumayabooks

    Just realized I should have said "…lessened in direct proportion to the number of alternative ways…" I think I need more caffeine.

  • http://www.booksandsuch.biz Wendy Lawton

    I think you are wrong, Michael.

    The primary backlash on the Author Solutions self-pub model is coming from published authors and author organizations. Agents have been relatively quiet about it. Sure there have been some thoughtful blog posts but for the most part the chatter is not from agents. We know the industry is changing and our job is to stay on top of the changes and guide our clients successfully and safely through the twists and turns.

    When you say, "The primary thing an agent sells is “'access'” you insult all agents. If that were the main thing we offered what a snap our job would be. A good agent is a key part of the author's team. We help shape the content, guide careers, track the money, brainstorm, help with marketing, work as a go-between when things get tough and so much more.

    Rather than just letting writers "access" you, we search out the very best writers and books. We work diligently to get to know what your needs are. We handpick the projects we offer you. We handle the tough stuff so you and our author can enjoy the creative process.

    It seems to be the "in" thing to dump on literary agents of late. Our job is to serve our clients and to serve the publishers and, ultimately, to serve the readers. I'd love to see what the publishing landscape would look like if it were not for us. <rant off>

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Test

      • therese

        The issue is:
        A publisher encourages an author they do not want to publish – to self publish with a different division – where the publisher gets the cash and retains the rights to the authors work, and half the royalties if the author succeeds. This model is the publisher saying: we're not going to invest in you or your work but you're welcome to invest your money in us, and we thank you for your donation.

        It's this model that has author representatives and organizations upset.
        This issue has nothing to do with readers or quality of work, it is specific to a publisher getting money from authors they don't want to publish or promote.

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  • Linda

    Clarifying up front, I'm a writer, not an agent.

    When I see a self-publishing discussion, people talk about in regards to non-fiction. That is where self-publishing works pretty well, because there are some niche books that won't get picked up because the audience is too small.

    It's when it comes to novels that self-publishing runs into trouble–and it's novelists that the self-publishers often target. It's a lot harder to write a good novel than it is to write an non-fiction book. I had best selling non-fiction writers in my critique group who thought they could knock out a great novel like a non-fiction book. All of them wrote three chapters and gave up because it was so difficult to do.

    Does it rip off writers? Yes, in a manner of speaking. The greatest tragedy is that it makes it easy to get "published' so they have no reason to learn or push themselves to be better writers.

  • http://www.wordsforthejourney.org Sharen

    As a writing mentor/teacher (Words For The Journey Christian Writers Guild), and as a freelance editor, I believe self-publishing is a viable option. In fact, I've directed writers to do this on occasion, especially if they have speaking platforms that demand material from their audience. However, a word of caution: I always advise writers to have their material edited professionally AND to be very careful they don't approach a vanity self-publishing group. Most of us know who "they" are. I believe it's time self-publishing develops a positive name for itself, and the only way that can be done is if authors take steps to put their professional foot forward.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree about professionally editing. This should always be done, regardless of the publishing model.

    • Lorraine

      Oh my YES. The need for proofreading and editing by someone who is not the author is the first thing I thought of and the biggest drawback I see to self-publishing outside of a lack of advertising know-how. I am a proofreader for my job. Even the best of our writers make mistakes and cannot see them when they reread their pieces. I cannot see my own mistakes until some time has passed since I typed the words.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt michaelhyatt

        I am personally terrible at seeing my own mistakes. That's okay when it comes to a blog (I think). People are more tolerant. But not in a book. Readers have a higher standard—and well they should. They are paying for the product.

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  • JD Nardone

    Mr. Hyatt,
    I really appreciate your honesty and insights. Your blog is refreshing and gives a first-time author real hope that there are leaders in the publishing world that want to ‘share’ in the success of authors, not just reap from them. You are wise to sow seeds that enlighten, guide, and encourage “would-be authors”. I’m sure that we will meet, someday. May the Lord continue to open the eyes of your heart, so that you can ‘see’, as He does, and benefit from His plans.

  • http://readhearseefeel.blogspot.com/ RuthintheDesert

    I think WestBow offers a valuable and needed service, and I think you are wise to offer authors this option. I talked with a WestBow representative a few days after the announcement, and I was impressed. As more and more publishing companies offer similar packages, I hope the price will come down a bit.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I do think that will happen. It's the nature of competition and market forces. I fully expect every traditional publisher to be in this business within the next few years.

      • http://readhearseefeel.blogspot.com/ RuthintheDesert

        I also hope there's a spiral binding available in the future of self-publishing. Bible studies with journaling pages require spiral bindings.

        • http://twitter.com/BelieversPress @BelieversPress

          Ruth,
          WestBow (and most other publishers that use the same POD printer) are unable to offer spiral binding because the printer they use doesn't offer it. I doubt that will change anytime soon.

          However, there are options: BelieversPress would be happy to help you self publish your spiral bound books.

  • kyle watson

    Not much I can add Mike. But maybe a couple of thoughts.

    Did agents forget about the firm grip they had on wanna be authors. Most traditional publishers say don't query us if you don't have an agent. Then you look for quality agents and you find only a select few. You send them a quality query letter and or a great proposal. Still its not what they want. For a thousand reasons why. They never read your manuscript. At this point what can a writer do? Wait forever? Not anymore.

    Now readers can decide what they like or not. Not every writer is publishing for the same reasons. Some people just do it for family, friends, church, and etc. Its a goal to try and see what if.

    When it comes to money. I published with IUniverse when they first started out. I made ten times the amount I spent to get published. If you work at it. You can make more than it takes to publish. Many authors have done better than expected.

    • Ken Stoll

      refreshing.

  • Colleen Coble

    I think the reason you are seeing agents blogging about this is that their authors are up in arms. The entire Harlequin contingency is hugely outraged and it's mostly because of Romance Writers of America's stance with their bylaws. The way it stands right now, "approved" publishers are the ones who are comped at conference and are allowed to enter the prestigious RITA award. Because that approval is finalized in September, it's being allowed to stand for the contest but RWA sent out a letter yesterday saying editors would no longer be comped and would have to attend on their own dime if they go. Unless they change the bylaws, next year any authors from houses that have a self publishing arm would not be eligible to enter the RITA. They were informed about Westbow Press also and are considering what course of action to take but will likely have to apply the same rules to us.

    Late last night, Harlequin backtracked with an email to all their authors. They are removing the name Harlequin from the new imprint, but so far this doesn't seem to have made a difference to RWA. It's a huge uproar. The ripples of all of this haven't settled yet, and I don't know if I can enter the Holt Medallion, the Booksellers Best or any of the other contests I routinely enter. Those contests usually follow the RWA parameters. :-( Mystery Writers of America has also issued a statement saying Harlequin isn't on their approved publisher list.

    I believe fiction authors view this whole thing very differently from non fiction authors. Non fiction fills a felt need and is about information. Often a non fiction writer has a speaking platform. Fiction is about craft and story and a million other things that go into putting together a story that people love and talk about. Usually if a fiction book isn't bought by a publisher, it's because of craft or story issues. And platform doesn't sell fiction very well the way it does non fiction (unless it's a huge platform like Lis Wiehl's.) They are such different animals. So when a fiction author sees that a writer goes the self publishing route it comes across with the belief that they were too impatient to learn their craft and make the story good enough for an editor to buy.

    Your point about books falling through the cracks and editors not seeing some of the good stuff is true too though. There might be a few of those.

    Things are definitely changing! I suspect you're right that many of the publishers will have an arm like this in the future. And your point is well taken that each person has to decide that for themselves. I'm such a mom that I try to guide fiction writers away from this model because it's so hard to market fiction without getting the books in a bookstore and having a good publisher's support. It's a hard course but some may feel they are up to the task.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for filling in the backstory. This is great information. I think there probably is a difference between fiction and non-fiction in terms of self-publishing. The one thing that is certain: there's no such thing as a free lunch. Publishing, no matter which model you pursue, is hard work.

  • Janet Kobobel Grant

    If only I'd known my primary task as an agent was to provide access to publishers, I wouldn't have "wasted" my day today advocating for contracted authors with their publishers. Mike, I think you approached agenting very differently from how I have. "Access" is only one of many functions I fulfill for my clients, and I don't necessarily consider it the most important. Now, building a career, that's much higher on my list. If access is the name of the game for agents, then best-selling authors wouldn't have agents. And it's not agents I hear who are distressed about Nelson and Harlequin adding self-publishing divisions; it's authors. As far as I'm concerned, if Nelson wants to reinvigorate its slush pile through Westbow, that's okay by me.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Janet, you do a great job for your clients. Thankfully, our industry has many very competent agents.

      I tried to qualify the remarks in my post by saying that access was the primary thing new authors are seeking from an agent, especially since publishers like Thomas Nelson and most others won't talk to them unless they have representation.

  • AimeeLS

    I saw your comments on Rachelle's blog Mike – thanks for stopping by.

    I asked the same question over there: Is there any chance this self-pub arm will raise your profits enough that TN will be able to traditionally publish MORE books? Or are the business units completely separate?

    Aimee

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think our position is that we will publish as many book as we profitably can.

      • AimeeLS

        I understand that. :) But from a business perspective, are the profits from self-published work available to the traditional publishing arm? I know this is a little simplistic, but I'm trying to get an idea if this is a new overall business direction or a new revenue line.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          Yes, they all flow into the same corporation.

          • AimeeLS

            Thanks for taking the time to reply! I personally appreciate how accessible you make yourself.

        • AimeeLS

          If it makes a difference, I'm a writer – not an agent / competitor. I have no ties (yet) with the publishing industry.

  • http://www.laurakinsale.com Laura Kinsale

    So I've been doing some research, and I've found out that Author Solutions bought out their main competitor, xLibris, earlier this year.

    Author Solutions is doing your "self-publishing" for you, as I understand it? And they seem to be in the mood to dominate the "self-publishing" side of things. They seem to do a pretty good job of what they do. I would call it a vanity press, you would call it self-publishing.

    So what I'd like to know, with both Harlequin and Thomas Nelson, is what precisely do you add to this equation? What value does Harlequin and TN add to Author Solutions service? Just telling your rejects about it?

    And where is your profit coming from out of it? Is it coming from "referral fees?" Which in other contexts might be called "kickbacks?" Is it coming from the promise some sort of market penetration? Which you make an excellent case yourself in #2 above won't actually happen for these books?

    What service is Thomas Nelson itself providing here, to either the market or the author, that Author Solutions didn't already provide? And why are you being paid anything for it at all?

    If someone wants to go publish their book with Author Solutions, great. But let's not call it a fancy forward thinking "self-publishing" model that puts you ahead in the glorious new world of publishing, when basically all that's happening here is that Harlequin and Thomas Nelson decide to take a cut in return for their names and a pretension of "marketing."

    Cause if you are adding any other value to this deal, I don't see it.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Laura, thank you for your questions.

      We are providing ASI with access to a market of authors who want to be published. These authors may never hear about ASI without our introduction. There are, as you can imagine, thousands of them. Until recently, traditional publishing was their only option. That was primarily because retail bookstores were the only way to distribute books. That is all changing.

      We are also adding credibility. Authors know us (that’s why they sent their proposal or manuscript to us to begin with); but they don’t know ASI. They trust that we have looked at all the options—which we have, including setting up our own service—and determined that this option was the best one.ASI does a great job of providing editorial and marketing services. I would put them up against ANY commercial publisher.

      In terms of our remuneration, WestBow Press is a joint venture. As partners with ASI, we share in the profits of the business we generate together—just like every other joint venture I have ever participated in.

      We wouldn’t do this if we thought it would dilute our brand or damage it. We have been in business since 1798 and have a long legacy. We are not going to squander that for a transient opportunity. If I didn’t think this was a good strategic move, I wouldn’t be doing it.

      If this doesn’t meet your needs, no problem. No harm, no foul. Everything is fully disclosed to authors in WestBow’s agreements. If someone doesn’t see value in this service, no one is holding a gun to their head. They can chose another option.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Laura, thank you for your questions.

      We are providing ASI with access to a market of authors who want to be published. These authors may never hear about ASI without our introduction. There are, as you can imagine, thousands of them. Until recently, traditional publishing was their only option. That was primarily because retail bookstores were the only way to distribute books. That is all changing.

      We are also adding credibility. Authors know us (that’s why they sent their proposal or manuscript to us to begin with); but they don’t know ASI. They trust that we have looked at all the options—which we have, including setting up our own service—and determined that this option was the best one. ASI does a great job of providing editorial and marketing services. I would put them up against ANY commercial publisher.

      In terms of our remuneration, WestBow Press is a joint venture. As partners with ASI, we share in the profits of the business we generate together—just like every other joint venture I have ever participated in.

      We wouldn’t do this if we thought it would dilute our brand or damage it. We have been in business since 1798 and have a long legacy. We are not going to squander that for a transient opportunity. If I didn’t think this was a good strategic move, I wouldn’t be doing it.

      If this doesn’t meet your needs, no problem. No harm, no foul. Everything is fully disclosed to authors in WestBow’s agreements. If someone doesn’t see value in this service, no one is holding a gun to their head. They can chose another option.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TimothyFish Timothy Fish

    As one of the people who has argued that Imprints have meaning, I'd like to say that your Imprint Challenge is an unrealistic assessment. Imprints don't have much meaning when we're talking about bestsellers. A bestselling author can easily switch publishers and their fans couldn't care less. The place where imprints have the most meaning is when a reader is considering a mid-list book by an author they know nothing about. Show a reader a book by Rosalyn Fischer and it will make a big difference whether the spine says Harlequin, Love Inspired or Thomas Nelson. The history the reader has with those names is going to help the reader make a decision, whereas the reader has probably already made a decision about a bestseller before considering the imprint. (And for anyone who is cares, Rosalyn Fischer is a character in one of my books and would make a terrible author.)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Timothy, thanks for your comments.

      However, I respectively disagree. This may work in some niche imprints, where the imprint is known for something—it has a clear brand promise. But I dare anyone to tell me how Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, or Penguin differ from one another in terms of the types of books they publish or acquire.

      I readily acknowledge in some genre’s the imprint is important. For example, I buy a lot of technical books, and O’Reilly is a name that means something to me. If they have published it, I trust it. I could give a lot of other examples, but you get the idea. My only argument is that this doesn’t apply for most mainstream trade publishing.

      This by the way is why publishers work so hard to validate unknown authors with endorsements and forewords from people the prospective reader knows.

  • http://forrest-long.blogspot.com Forrest Long

    Mike, your post is great!
    The fact is life changes and life goes on- and the publishing industry isn't exempt from this. I've published traditionally without any great success. I've just published my latest book in electronic format which will be available as an ebook, and for Kindle, Sony reader and all available electronic forms. The company I'm working for does all this and I will make a great percentage- that is if it sells. But today it's worth the try. Times are changing and so are reading habits.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1299980270 Mark A. York

    How about this for a test? Walk into any bookstore anywhere and pick up a book. What are the chances this volume was produced by a vanity press, under the wing of a traditional house or not? Congratulations. You've just proven why vanity presses aren't publishers or booksellers. Westbow sure isn't and you know it. So does Harlequin.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Mark, with all due respect, that was kind of my point in #2 above.

      But your fatal assumption is that bookstore distribution is the only distribution that matters. But even for Thomas Nelson, almost half of our sales come from non-traditional outlets. Books can be very successful without any bookstore distribution. (And this isn't an argument against bookstores.) As an author, what do you care if your books are sold through traditional bookstores, your blog, a church bookstore, or your speaking event. A sale is a sale is a sale.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

        POD books are not being sold through any of these alternative avenues either! Are you saying church bookstores are going to be ordering from the ASI catalog? Sure back of the room sales are a staple of income for speakers and they'be been doing this for decades before POD was invented and the cost for the POD books is higher than for a regular printed book.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1299980270 Mark A. York

        POD stands for print- non- demand. They aren't sold in any alternative outlets as Ms. Kern says below. A pdf file online is not a published book. For books sold this way a sale is indeed a sale, but there are precious few. You know that.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          Mark, I have personally sold thousands of books in PDF-only format. It's a beautiful business model—perhaps the best, since it requires virtually no capital.

          I’m not quite sure how you think you know that I know something different than this.

  • http://www.laurakinsale.com Laura Kinsale

    Since "all the options" available now pretty much include ASI-controlled "self-publishers" and Lulu, I can't say I'm all that impressed with the credibility of your extensive research on that end.

    If you can't make a financial go of setting up your own "service," I don't think it sounds like that great of a "new model" for publishers, either.

    Let me be clear. People may self-publish in any way they like. It's the "this is new model of publishing and all you guys are just selfishly draggin' your feet" cow patootie that needs to be seen for the double-talk that it is.

    You have thrown in with ASI, who clearly wants to take over this *market* and is pulling publishers on board as fast as they can. They never could get the legitimate agents to shill–err "add value"–for them, but they've talked you into it. As you say, no harm, no foul, I guess, but did you ever stop to wonder why shilling for a vanity press gets an agent kicked out of their professional organizations?

    I hope you have good terms in your joint venture. Wish you luck. And hope you are proud of yourselves.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Actually, I am proud of the work we are doing. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing it.

      With regard to the professional organizations? Like I said in my post, I regard this as a "guild." It's a way of protecting their members by creating artificial scarcity. It works great. Until the scarcity is no longer scarce.

      • http://www.laurakinsale.com Laura Kinsale

        Wow. That's pretty insulting to professionals and their organizations, accusing them of deliberately creating artificial scarcity–that's even kind of illegal, I think, for them to do that. Are you accusing them of creating a monopoly or setting pricing?

        Especially when all they have to do is abide by a set of professional guidelines aimed at making sure they deal honestly with their clients.

        Ironic.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          No, I think it is being honest. Everyone—EVERYONE—has an economic interest, including the professional organizations (e.g., members pay them dues).

          And, no, I am not accusing them of doing anything illegal. I am accusing them of doing what ALL of us are doing—looking out for our own economic interests. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

      • http://www.courtneymilan.com Courtney Milan

        Let's see. Let's break this out.

        1. You assert that traditional publishing spots are artificially scarce (by whatever means). This should mean, authors are willing to settle for a great deal less than they would otherwise get, due to the scarcity. Supply & demand, right?

        2. And yet from your original post, publishers are the ones getting ripped off.

        Since publishing spots are scarce, you should be able to leverage that power. If you think you are getting ripped off by authors who don't earn out their advances, who have slots for which there is a great deal of competition, and you continue to overpay them…

        Doesn't that mean that y'all are basically patsies?

        These things just don't make economic sense. If traditional publishing spots are scarce and you are still overpaying most of your authors, you are doing something wrong. And it's clearly not the agents–or the authors–fault. That just sounds like someone (you) failing to leverage an economic fact.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

      Laura, I really appreciate your insightful and intelligent comments and hanging in with this dialogue. Why not go drectly to ASI if a writer has a burning desire to be in the POD catalog and order a few books for themselves? Do they really need the TN or HQ logo (that won't actually be there?) for an additional fee? ASI needs the business and is willing to pay for the leads and it is a great way to "monetize the rejections" which they will re-read and like later on after a $1,000 fee has been paid. Why not just charge reading fees if the goal is to get the submission actually read and considred? Surely it could be for a lesser amount!

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I think one key word you mentioned in this post is “Access.” Authors want / need access. Publishers traditionally have provided access. Agents connect authors with publishers and negotiate the best scenarios for access. Access is… ultimately to distribution channels that enable the author to reach a larger audience. That’s what traditional publishing has provided but barriers to access have greatly diminished and that end result is impacting everyone in often dramatic ways. Demand is driving distribution in different ways. There is tremendous value in traditional forms of publishing for MANY reason but for those who are denied that opportunity, they should have the choice to go self publishing. Because of that, I think it’s great that a publisher like Thomas Nelson offers a solution like this. At minimum, it’s an option that hopefully can be trusted and not a scam deal like so many eager authors get sucked into and burned on. There will always be a need for agents but the role of the agent may be changing as well… it all goes back to access.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Daniel. You clearly get what we are after. We are not saying this is right for everyone. It is merely an option. The market will determine whether or not we are offering something of value.

    • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

      Mike, if TN published 500 titles in a year… how many of those actually earn out on their advance? How many of them actually sell enough to do what the publisher needs (for it to make $) and what the author wants (to reach a large audience and hppefully earn them $)? Only a small % accomplish that. For agents and authors… how many have been upset with their relationships with traditional publishers? Authors feeling like the publisher didn’t invest enough to make the book gain access and distribution? Happens all the time. Traditional is certainly the primary objective and one that puts far less risk on the author, offering the greatest chance for success BUT for the author who cannot get published this way, self publishing does offer an increasingly viable option – IF they are willing to assume more of their own risk. Let the author decide. If they choose risk over a dead dream, that is up to them. Yes, there could be perceived conflicts of interest in a publisher like TN backing a self pub option but that will work itself out by either proving to be a success or proving to be a bad choice. Time will tell but I think it’s at least novel for TN to try something new.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

        We track royalty advance recoupment (earn-out) as a major metric, as you might imagine. Advances are one of the major investments we make, so we have to keep close tabs on them. Pre-recession, about 70% of our advances earned out. That number was pretty consistent for at least the last decade. However, we have seen that number drop significantly in the recession. We are now at about 50%. That number will go back up, because we have adjusted the size of our advances to reflect better the actual market environment.

        You don’t have to earn out an advance to make money. But the converse is also true. Just because you do earn out, doesn’t mean you do make money. You can earn-out but spend too much on marketing or print too many books and still lose money. We don’t run a formal P&L on every book, but I think the industry consensus is that about 70–80% of all books published lose money—especially when you allocate your fixed costs against them (editorial, sales staff, warehouse, credit, collections, and other back-office operations).

        So in the traditional model, the publisher is taking a lot of risks, hoping to publish a few titles that actually make enough money to cover his bad bets and still have something left over at the end of the day.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

    1.Everyone wants to be published. Really! My husband forbids me to mention what I do when we travel because sure enough the waitress or hotel clerk will ‘have a manuscript in a drawer” they want me to read. So it is a not surprising to look at this potential market like an untapped China waiting to be sold.
    2.Life isn’t a level playing field. Everyone is not talented at everything or even many things. Confession: I personally cannot sing or dance. The majority of people are not going to sing in Carnegie Hall, compete in the Olympics or perform heart surgery—or get a publishing contract. There really is a question of talent as we can see from Idol contestants. You’ve been away from agenting for quite a while Mike, and, as you say, Nelson only accepts agented material. Perhaps you have forgotten how truly unpublishable much of what we receive actually is. It is I suppose a good thing you are willing to provide a vanity service for these writers.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It may be unpublishable from a commercial publishers perspective, as someone who has to make it work with traditional booksellers. But if an author has his own market or he just wants to publish something to leave to his family, why shouldn't he be able to do that?

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

        I agree Mike. See my later comments. I have encouraged some writers including clients to self-publish. I think it is important for writers to understand that a keepsake is what they are buying from ASI and not an avenue to a career as a writer. I have no problem with self-publishing or even TN making a profit from that. I have no problem with downloaded books from websites–I've even purchased a few. I've encouraged some clients to publish their out of print titles or even NEW works on Kindle. I just want it to be clearly stated to the writer exactly what they will receive for their money and what exactly TN is doing for them.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

    3.Aside from actual talent, there is training involved in every human endeavor. College, graduate work, apprenticeships, coaches, teachers, etc. Amazingly, writing is no exception. As Robin Lee Hatcher points out in her blog, writers really do need editors and years of training and practice to actual become masters of their craft and art. I have never understood why writing is the one thing that somehow people think they are magically born knowing. Even those who are successes in any field still have mentors, take refresher courses, increase their skills and work with coaches, agents and editors.
    4.In addition to talent and training and lots of practice in an endeavor that has a long learning curve, there is a need to work with a support team that includes agent and publisher to achieve success. There are different venues that are appropriate for different books. Just as one pianist is best served playing part time in a pizza parlor, another in a night club and another in an orchestra, books have different potential. Publishers of necessity work on books that have a broad appeal. Even all well-written books do not. For the team to reach the audience is an equally great endeavor.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

    5.Yes, there are agents who do not even negotiate an offer and accept anything; who don’t know e-rights from their elbow; who have never seen let alone helped to develop a marketing plan; who can’t edit proposals; who don’t brainstorm ideas; or write jacket copy; or get new covers designed; screen outside publicists; partner with the publisher; handle subsidiary rights like film rights or foreign rights and the dozens of other things competent agents do daily. But many agents do these things and far more! How many writers can do these things for themselves? Yes, writers need agents who actually are good at what they do. Don’t hire a shyster lawyer to represent you or an incompetent architect or agent. Check the bona fides.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep, like any profession, there are good guys and bad. Caveat emptor.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

    7. Sure some nonfiction books can reach their readers via a website and can even be sold as a downloadable book—perhaps better than this POD model. The problem with doing this with fiction is that it really is hard to succeed in this way—and it is FAR better to have a good book you can market that provides higher profit margin than a POD book will. A “best-selling” POD book sells 500 copies. I have a client who did start as a self-publisher. She sold 15,000 copies of her first trade paper novel ON HER OWN! You think I didn’t take notice of that??!! So consider why she looked for an agent after her third book had achieved similar success. Yep, there is a point to having one! And now she is under contract with three current publishers. She could not have pulled this off with a POD vanity book. She did it with a GOOD self-published book and an immense amount of very hard work on her part

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

    And finally, 8.I recommend self-publishing if it is appropriate. It is already an option I consider. My client Nikki Arana self-published her nonfiction book Through The Eyes of Christ successfully. She knew nothing about how to do this and is not a techno-oriented person. She spent $500 and in a few weeks was making solid sales on a book that had been edited, proof read, well-designed, and had a great blurb and when we reach a sufficient sales level, it can be presented to a larger press. Would it have been better to have paid an additional $1,000 or more to AuthorSolutions? I don’t think so.

    • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

      I think Natasha has great point on Fiction vs Non-fiction. Type of book makes a HUGE difference as to which pub direction would work most naturally.

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  • Lauren Sylvan

    I rarely comment twice, but feel I have something of value to add here. I am self-published, although since I have plenty of past experience doing non-profit and business design and fundraising (I think writing grant proposals is an overlooked training ground in writing concise, heart-wringing fiction in order to generate money) I hired out my own editing and already knew how to do the technical stuff.
    What started me on this road was information gleaned from a major writer's conference. The cost of that conference, where I hoped to attract the notice of an agent, was ten times the cost of getting my novel into print.
    That first novel wasn't as bad as many that I read (what author doesn't think that?) but it also was a starting point. It had several readers who liked it, and several more who gave me a less favorable but honest opinion. From that feedback, I learned and I grew. And I didn't lose money.
    So I wrote another. Same process, better writing, more readers, somewhat more positive feedback. I learned and I grew. And I didn't lose money.
    Number three really worked for my audience, who recommended it to their friends and relatives, and bought extra copies to give them. On that one, I netted a little money, and am still making money. But not much, of course, because my reach is not yet long enough.
    The next step in my reality check was realizing that although I had a good product, I did not have enough recognition, and the resistance to new /unknown entertainers without an entree is very high. So I professionally recorded #3 (which took a lot, but I have people who owe me) and got it into a format that people were more likely to test–and that cost me only fifty cents per unit to give away. I'm not making any money, but I can give away 2,000 mp3 disk/cover sets for the cost of ONE conference to fish for an agent. Not every disk finds a listener, but according to my feedback, hundreds have, including the certain people in my life I most want to reach, and I am thrilled.
    Maybe when I finish the next novel, I'll make money. But even if I didn't, as a storyteller, having an audience is what matters most to me.
    The moral to other writers is, go ahead–you don't have much to lose. You'll get your work in front of real readers, if you can stand the heat you'll improve, and at the end of the day it really is more cost-effective than becoming a writing conference groupie endlessly dating agents.
    That said, one day I hope to break into a royalty-paying deal. But it will have to be better than what I can do for myself.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

      The moral here is don't pitch at conferences!! Do you really think we go to conferences trolling for clients? To sit in a windowless room all day hearing a new pitch every ten minutes when just at my agency we get 10,000 submissions each year! I've long lobbied for group appointments so writers can actually get to know us. Have pointed out that we respond to WRITTEN material not pitches and thus email queries are FAR more effective.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

      And further those who are good at pitching invariably turn out to have training as actresses or sales people or presenters which has zero correlation to writing ability. We attend conferences for many reasons– to see our clients, to meet prospective clients whose work we have already read; to meet with editors and other agents and professionals; to cheer on clients winning awards; to present workshops that can inform and genuinely support new writers . . . a longer list here. Bottom line: if you have a ms. and want to connect to agents go to websites. Guess what? We read all submissions for FREE! And often provide feedback if we are genuinely interested. I signed a writer at the last conference I attended I had been exchanging emails with for nine months. That happens.

  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com Chip MacGregor

    Let me confess right off the bat… I'm a longtime literary agent. I have a financial stake in the authors I represent. But I've also self-published books of my own, and done well, so I'm not someone who is down on self-publishing. To be fair, I don't see that literary agents have been terribly vocal about self-publishing. I'm certainly not opposed. I just think authors need to understand what they're getting into — you should ONLY self-publish if you (1) want to spend a bunch of money on a book to give to family and friends, or (2) have a means for selling books. In my experience (and yours too, I think, Mike), most wannabe authors don't have the means to actually sell books. Some nonfiction authors who speak can do very well with a self-pubbed book by selling them in the back of the room (I did); but it's very rare for a fiction writer to self-pub and sell many books. (No matter how many times you bring up THE SHACK.) -Chip

  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com Chip MacGregor

    Last thing: I disagree with you on the tenor of your argument. Frankly, I DO care about writers getting scammed (maybe because I used to make my living as a writer). And I was surprised at the negative tone you took toward agents. (You could poll the authors I represent, and see if I assist them with idea development, career guidance, marketing, and working through the rough spots. I wouldn't be afraid of the replies. I sometimes fail at it, but my stated goal is to assist with all those areas.) But maybe you've taken a bunch of hits on this decision. Without sounding argumentative, what exactly does an author receive from his or her self-pub relationship with Thomas Nelson that he or she would not receive from self-pubbing directly with ASI? I'm missing that. Thanks! (And no more long agent posts.) -Chip

    -Chip

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Chip, I think I was pretty careful in the post not to swipe ALL agents. We work with some great agents, who are true partners. I personaly have a literary agent. We don't even look at proposal at Thomas Nelson (with rare exceptions) unless they are represented. So, I am not arguing against all agents any more than someone would argue again all publishers or all authors. People are people. Some are good; some are bad.

      If you read back through my comments here—and I know there are a ton—I have clarified this several times. ISince I have had to speak to this a few times now, obviously I wasn't as clear in the post as I should have been.

      Thanks,

  • Kathryn

    I understand your point of view. But I am curious about something that seems to be missing in the logic of the equation. Google Publish America – read what publishers themselves have called that publisher. Then compare the AS model to the PA model. The only difference is the huge amount of money one will spend with AS. So if for years PA was the biggest scam in the industry – and toted as such by agents, writers, publishers – how can this be viewed as good? Or evolving? The only thing evolving from the PA model to this one is again – the cash flow involved.
    If the same industry that has hurled insults one way for years but now is going to back that model, it makes a lot of things look like hypocrisy.
    In addition, if this new model becomes so evolved it takes over the publishing industry – what happens to the good stories that can't afford to see the print? So many of the bestsellers in the last decade would have been hard pressed to see the bookshelf if the author had to incure costs such as these to get them there.
    As I hope to eventually hone my craft and evolve that novel into something that someone else enjoys – these are questions that leave the aspiring author some food for thought about where their career may get stone walled.

  • http://www.innercityleadership.blogspot.com roy valverde

    I am a pastor, and in my fourth chapter of my book. I have had this desire for the last 14 years, to write. Many people have encouraged me fulfill, yet I held off on it. I have started. This blog is very informative. I'm thinking of self publishing my work, as I'm not very sure I will be accepted by a publishing house. I have thought of multiple ways I market it. I know for a fact my book can be a help for many people. It deals with leadership. Thank you Mike

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DavidOlawoyin DavidOlawoyin

    Wow! This is a wonderful piece. I’m in complete agreement. Can’t even think of one point I disagree with. Straight to the point and fearless; not dodging the issues. Agents, wake up! As a writer, I am presently trying to raise funds to use the WestBow OPPORTUNITY. As I told another writer online just last night, you must be ready to put down your money. That just seems to be the stark truth. I repeat, this article about says it all. Wish I were one of those early WestBow prospects.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

    6. The long existing self-publishing model did mean the writers ended up with hundreds of books in the basement and had to figure out how to sell them. This newer vanity model where the writer gets listed in a catalog of 85,000 other books that no one ever looks at is hardly an improvement for the cost. A client signing books this week said B&N told her they never stock self-published books any more because of the pressure from PUBLISHERS to keep the shelf space for their books. Do you think Walmart will? In the past going from bookstores to help get a book available especially a regional title could work. No longer.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      <Sigh.> As hard as it maybe to believe, many authors have built platforms (thanks to the Internet) that don't require the traditional bookselling distribution model. I know many authors who have done VERY well who have ZERO bookstore distribution.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

        I have no trouble believing that at all. Books have been sold direct to consumers for decades with success. Some e-publishers are doing very well and I have a few clients who have written for them and made a nice living. Harlequin's new Carina will presumably be such an endeavor. The traditional model absolutely isn't for everyone a new modes are emerging. But I know of NO ONE who has had this success with POD in the ASI model– in fact they state clearly that selling 500 books is considered a "best seller"

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

          I should mention this is not just theory on my part. A few years ago to understand this option better I "published" a half dozen books via Lightning source to truly get the process. I still contend it won't work for fiction.

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  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com Chip MacGregor

    That said, I think your first argument (brand dilution) is a bit disingenuous. Your company is first turning down a manuscript (in essence saying, "We don't think this can be financially successful for us"), then coming back and saying, "But if you give us money, and pay for it yourself, we can help you produce it and it will be great." You're free to do that, and I won't begrudge you the business. I don't care if you want to get into self-pubbing — the industry is changing, and this is one of the changes. But I think the implication that a self-pubbed book is somehow tied to Thomas Nelson isn't really true. And that's the sizzle you're selling. Does it affect my business? Nope. There are a bazillion self-pubbed books, neither B&N nor Amazon will carry them, so it doesn't impact me one bit. But I do think it's fair to point out the incongruence.

    • Lauren Sylvan

      Chip, Amazon will sell your high school notebook if you have an account with them. For $12 a year, you can keep your POD book in the Ingram Catalog, which means that every online seller (including B&N) will have it available, and any bookstore can order it. I'm not saying they will stock it, or that anybody will find it if you don't send them to it, but there is no real barrier to online sales for a self-pubbed author.
      I was amused to see that the week my first book was listed online, twenty 'used' copies were also listed. Which means that others who downloaded the same catalog were willing to take an even lower profit than Amazon. And I didn't even offer a publisher's discount!

      • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

        Good points Lauren. Goes back to access. :) The barriers preventing access are coming down.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Chip, I'm sorry but I disagree. It is tied to Thomas Nelson. We are reviewing the sales performance. In fact, we're actually discussing the editorial content with the WestBow editors on a regular basis.

      You have no idea whether we will actually publish some of these books at Thomas Nelson. You are speculating that we won't and implying that I am saying that we are, knowing full well we aren't. (I think that's called a lie!) Time will tell. I think you are making some pretty weighty pronouncements about our motives here.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

        Wait a minute. When I specifically asked TN editors about this very thing, I was told that Westbow was at arms length and they were not looking at anything from that division and had no intention of doing so! Would you mind clearly stating for the record that your FICTION editors are reviewing the manuscripts sent into Westbow with a view to acquiring them? {after previously rejecting them of course} We have this 'bait and switch' view because what Chip has expressed is exactly the information we have been given. No one is concerned about self-publishing if in fact the writer does receive books to sell at a reasonable price and can build a following. There is objection to the production of a "keepsake" your word and calling that the launch of a writing career that can lead to publication on the TN list.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

          Yes, WestBow is arm’s length. The WestBow team is employed by ASI and assigned to service our joint venture. However, when they find something of particular editorial merit, they bring it to the attention of Pete Nikolai, one of our VPs.

          Pete’s job (among other things) is to ascertain whether or not he should bring it to the attention of one of our Thomas Nelson editors. He is also the one who will be watching the WestBow weekly sales report to see what is getting traction and what is not. We will bring those that are to the attention of the appropriate acquisitions editor.

          Please understand that this venture is only about a month old. We have a strategic intention, but we are still working through making sure that we have the right processes in place. We don't want to burden our Nelson editors with additional workload, but we also want to make them aware of opportunities as they arise.

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

            Thank you for taking the time to provide this detailed response. This makes sense to me. I hope this works out as you envision it. And all those new writers on the Nelson list will be looking for agents! ;-)

          • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

            Me, too!

  • http://www.theresepatrick.com therese

    Michael,
    I hope this is not a career-transitional blog for you. Your original post is insulting to agents, admits you're in self-publishing for the money, and that you don't respect organizations who advocate for writers with information and advice about their careers. Some of your comments, on others comments, also showed a rather narrow view of the people who have a stake in creating good books and stories for readers. I also felt you don't have much respect for readers since they don't purchase books by the imprint.

    As you promote self-publishing as a viable model and a wave for the future, you are also discrediting the value of a traditional publisher like TN, that will not consider an unagented writer, but don't think that same agent should advise a writer not to use your self-pub division so you can make money on an author you won't publish or promote.

    You stated your position is for economic concerns – then said that is everyone's position, to make money, which the stats show few authors will do through self-pub channels. Maybe you're still upset The Shack made money that could have boosted the bottom line of your company, if you hadn't passed on the project.

    I'm not sure who you intended to benefit from this blog post . There was little respect for; other professionals in your industry, organizations who advocate for writers, or any purpose to publishing other than to get money. Isn't the whole purpose of publishing to connect authors to readers?

    Harlequin may even have bought into the ASI marketing plan because TN did, so thought maybe it is a good thing. Otherwise, why would they state their new division is so like your WestBow?

    There's a huge difference between non-fiction authors with a platform and passion, making money from their self-pubbed books, and novelists who want to be published. Doing the time is part of the journey to crafting a story that will benefit a reader. The novelist needs to learn dedication to the craft and gain a whole pile of compassion for the reader – who will benefit from a stellar story – while becoming more professional. Whenever that journey is cut short with a quick fix, the story suffers and the benefit to others is lost.

    I feel this blog you posted has that same feeling – the message and benefit to others has been lost to economic concerns. This makes me wonder what journey or new venture you may begin – and what your next blog post may be about.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I hardly know where to begin. Let me just re-state what I have said previously: I am not opposed to all agents. In fact, I am not opposed to most agents. We benefit from them. We consider them partners. I personally have an agent.

      I also acknowledge that non-fiction authors generally more from self-publishing than novelists. However, if you scroll back through these comments, you'll find at least one novelist who had a very positive experience self-publishing.

      I think it all comes down to your goals. I trust writers to make those decisions, after educating themselves. I expect industry associations to educate on the options and not advocate for a specific kind of publishing that simple benefits them more.

  • Bob DeMoss

    Hey Mike, As an author who's written 9 books for Thomas Nelson, I applaud this move. There are books which are both important and well-written, but where the audience is so narrow, there's not enough potential return for a major publishing house to touch it.

    That dynamic reminds me of your days at Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishing where you guys decided to publish books which might not have a vast audience but had messages that were worthy to be heard. Unfortunately, as you learned, that model wasn't sustainable. This self-publish option gives those projects a shot at finding an audience, regardless of size.

    Hats off!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

      If only that were true, the endeavor would indeed be wonderful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1260484565 Donald James Parker

    Wow – this post and thread is almost worthy of being made into a book. There is a lot of good insight here as well as passion. What a combination!!

    Here is the question posed: What do you think about self-publishing? A threat or just another option?

    This question can only be interpreted through the point of view of the particular blog reader. Obviously, as author of nine self-published books, I am biased. An unpublished author cannot see self publishing as a threat, but a traditionally published author can since competition might cut book sales. A publisher faces the same liability (though arguably not a major problem, yet). An agent probably has more clients that he or she can handle now so they probably are not concerned so much with future prospects. However, if many of their current clients opted for self publishing as opposed to entrusting their manuscript to the agent for an extended pitch campaign, the agent may suffer the loss of a few sales. However, the reverse may occur if the self published book attains a modicum of success, it might open the door to a traditional publisher for that book or at least a subsequent book by the same author. It is an interesting environment out there — as can be gleaned from reading this thread. The future of many people could be at stake. Personally – I think the return of the Lord is close at hand and long term fears about careers is a moot point. Perhaps God is even using the self publication revolution to help prepare the Earth for the second coming. That to me is even a more fascinating concept than worrying about whose livelihood is being threatened by the advent of easy publication.

  • http://www.booksandsuch.biz Wendy Lawton

    In the comments section of your blog you say: “I hardly know where to begin. Let me just re-state what I have said previously: I am not opposed to all agents. In fact, I am not opposed to most agents. We benefit from them. We consider them partners. I personally have an agent.”

    You seem surprised that so many agents took umbrage at your blog post. In your comments, you keep repeating that you were only referring to some agents. I think you should re-read your blog. Below I have pulled out every reference or inference you made about agents in your blog. Where did you say “some?” In only one place: “some are speaking out against self-publishing."

    You never qualified any of the negative comments about agents. You painted us with a very broad brush.

    Here’s what you said:

    1. “What I find curious is that much of the backlash has come from agents.”
    2. “But why should traditional publishers, agents, and industry trade associations—which I refer to collectively as ‘the guild’—care?”
    3. [In your third point, when talking about the agents’ argument against self-publishing you say:] “I find this surprisingly hypocritical.”
    4. “The primary thing an agent sells is ‘access.’ I fully realize this isn’t the only thing, but I would argue it is the primary thing, especially for new authors.”
    5. “The problem with the self-publishing model is that it takes away the would-be author’s need for access. If they are not going the route of traditional publishing, then they don’t need an agent. Could it be that this poses such a threat to the agent’s business model that some feel a need to speak out against it?”
    6. ”Maybe it’s time agents took a hard look at their own business model and asked how they can add value in the new publishing economy.”

    Let me answer these points one by one:

    1. Backlash? How many agents have publically lashed out against self-publishing compared to writers? What percentage of the “backlash” came from agents?
    2. Guild, as used here, implies a closed, self-protective club. Self-protection has nothing to do with it. If we seem like a closed society it is only because we have a limited number of client slots informed by the limited number of publishing spots. We are also a closed society because it is our job to only admit those of journeyman level, so to speak. Would you like us to bring every apprentice to you?
    3. In your third point you say, “I find this surprisingly hypocritical.” That’s a broad stroke. You didn’t say some agents are hypocritical. Many of us work very hard to make certain our contracts with publishers are win-win. We know that if we don’t care for the publishers’ well-being as well as our clients' well-being we are being short-sighted.
    4. Here’s where you cut deeply. Yes, some agents are nothing more than hacks—focusing on selling, selling, selling. Maybe they do enjoy the power of that access. But every agent in my circle of friends works hard to maintain a servant’s heart toward clients and publishers alike. We take a holistic approach with our clients. Every decision is weighed in charting a long-term career strategy. We often turn away lucrative immediate opportunities because of the potential effect in the long haul.
    5. When access is available directly writers don’t need agents? As my colleague, Janet Kobobel Grant said, “Then why would best-selling authors have agents?” I ask the same question. I have one client who has over 100 million books in print. Don’t you think she could have direct access to publishers without an agent? Do you think she has an agent only for access?
    6. Suggesting we don’t look to the future and don’t add value is an insult. We are constantly assessing the industry, weighing the changes. That’s what we do as agents. When we get together with our colleagues, that’s what we chew on. And if anyone adds value to the industry—writers and publishers alike—it’s a good agent.

    Thomas Nelson, B&H and Harlequin took a bold step when they decided to test this new model. The debate is healthy and always follows something scary and new. Look at the violent debate every time we discuss e-Books. We will continue follow the self-publishing debate with interest.

    Maybe you were attempting to deflect attention and criticism away from Thomas Nelson by attacking agents, but it’s akin to making an ad hominem attack instead of addressing the debate head on. We are all in this together.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your input, Wendy. I do appreciate it. I probably did paint with too broad a brush. I stand corrected. Hopefully, I will learn and do a better job next time.

      I also appreciate healthy debate, which is why I have spent as much time as I have engaging with those who have commented here.

      However, I now feel like I am just repeating myself. For those who are interested in my perspective on most of the issues you raise, they can scroll back through the comments.

      Thanks again for your input.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/NatashaKern NatashaKern

      Thank you Wendy for writing these comments. It is true that most unpublished writers have a vague idea of what agents do and really think it is just about getting that first sale. I have clients who have been with my agency for 15-20 years and they are obviously getting a great deal more than that! Many writers want to focus on writing and know they have support, counsel and action for everything else like:
      whether to write in different genres, or with a pseudonym, or for different publishers, or other avenues of publication, quit the day job, retain certain rights, ask for rights reversions, learn to read a royalty statement, collect funds that have not been paid, look for new opportunities, and dozens of other decisions that must be made and then pursued. There is no reason at all this should be an adverarial process rather than a win-win team process for writer, agent and publisher. And frankly, I have always appreciated the fact that Nelson is a great team player when it comes to including me on everything and my client being thrilled with the result.

  • http://aspiringwritersofnonfiction.blogspot.com/ Lynnda Ell

    Hello, Michael. I purchased a package from WestBow Press less that a week after it opened for business. I want to say from the beginning that I have been impressed with the high quality of the people with whom I have been working. As a novice, professional writer with a nonfiction devotional book, I believe I made the right decision with the right company. I would not change my mind, at this point. However, this book WestBow Press has contracted to publish for me was not a business venture. The next book will have a business component to it so, as a business person, I have a question for you: what are you selling me that is worth 80% of the net profit on a book WestBow Press publishes? If you want me to be a return customer, I need a very good answer to that question. Thank you for your time, Lynnda Ell

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Lynnda, this is an important question, I would direct you back to your WestBow contact. They are in the best position to answer that. As the CEO of Thomas Nelson, I just don't get that involved in this level of operational detail. Thanks.

  • James

    I have spent nearly three years writing my first book and am truly amazed at the difficulty people have endured trying to get an agent and get published through the traditional manner. I would love to have an agent and a get contract from a top publisher and will go that route first. More than that however, I would really love to get my writing in the hands of those that can benefit from it and if that means self-publishing, then thats the route I'll take.

    If someone is looking to create an income stream from their books and willing to do whats needed, then a few thousand $$ is not a real large investment.

    These blogs are great for people like me that are really just starting to navigate these treacherous waters…

    • http://www.lesliekelly.com Leslie Kelly

      James, please keep navigating.

      Vanity publishing is NOT the standard, normal way professional authors break into this business. Lots of authors blog or have some kind of online presence these days–research the ones you like, who write in the genre in which you want to publish. Do not trust the "paid" listings that come up in your first Google search that make it seem it's SOP to pay to play in this business. Because it just isn't.

  • http://www.chipmacgregor.com Chip MacGregor

    You’re right, Mike. I was making an assumption. I should have restated that. My apologies. As you know, I hold you in high esteem, and did not mean to impugn your motives. You’re right — my comments could be read as suggesting you knew something was not true. That was wrong of me, and I’m sorry.

  • http://shilohwalker.wordpress.com shilohwalker

    In my opinion, TRUE self publishing is a viable option. Especially if one's book is quirky or would appeal to niche markets more than the masses.

    If one's dream is to see their book in print, have it on hand for friends or for local events, yes it can work and it can work well.

    But, IMO, the deal Westbow and ASI have isn't true self publishing. It's vanity pub.

    In self publishing the writer fronts the money and assumes the risks… thus, the writer keeps the profits. 100%

    In vanity pub? the writer fronts the money, assumes the risk and has to SPLIT the profits.

    Vanity presses go after those who are so desperate to make it big, they are willing to shell out thousands in that hope. Now if a person wants to do that, it's their money, their call. Personally, I still see it as exploiting that writer's dreams, but there ya go.

    But I'm kind of surprised that Thomas Nelson would want to be in on any sort of exploitative deal and to me, that's how this looks. Exploiting the writers who weren't good enough or weren't ready, or the ones who story just didn't fit in with what TN publishing. It's disheartening.

  • Heather

    For the love of Pete–this venture is NOT self-publishing! It is Vanity Publishing, In Self Publishing, you keep all your royalties. In this venture, you only keep 50%. So basically, they make you pay and they keep half the money.

  • jim duncan

    I really don’t believe agents are speaking out against this due to an access isssue. They see far more decent writing coming through their inbox than they could ever represent.. If half of them went to self-publishing, it wouldn’t hurt their business one bit, and would likely help, since the amount of queries they have to deal with these days has gone up hugely over the past year. There are so many more people writing today than can be supported by the market, they can afford to be choosy. Unfortunate for many writers, because lots of good stuff gets passed on. This gets unfairly turned on agents I think, whom end up getting seen as the bad guys who don’t know good writing when they see it. They see and know all kinds of good writing. They also have to attempt to acquire to the current marketplace and what readers and publishers are going after. It’s something of a guessing game. Readers are fickle. You know all of this of course, and so do many with some familiarity with the industry. I do wish the info would get past along to all of the writers who think agents are just a bunch of elitiist gatekeepers who don’t know good writing. There’s too much of it. Also, a lot more poor writing to go along with it. Sifting through it all is a really difficult task. Self-publishing is certainly an alternative, not a very viable one for the vast majority of writers, assuming they wish to make any money at all from their writing. Van/sub publishers though are manipulating this state of affiairs however to make writers think it is viable, when the fact is, 99% will invest far to much time, effort, and money for no return on their investment.

  • Linda

    One thing that troubles me in your post is that writers choose a vanity press because they're making an "informed decision." Many vanity presses rely on people NOT being informed.

    The publishing business works generally like other businesses, but there are some aspects that are different. Suppose you need a plumber. You would pay for his services. So it seems like a logical jump–you want a book published, you pay for it. Run a search, and the top ten hits are vanity presses.

    The writer will find a marketing spiel designed to get them to buy into self-publishing. All that person sees is that it's publishing, and that the assumption is that their book will be in bookstores. The words on the sites are carefully phrased to suggest this is possible, and it's only after the writer has paid the money that they find out this wasn't true.

    Sure, the writer should have done his homework. But how do they sort through all the misinformation to make that informed decision? I've even seen national newspapers print misinformation about vanity publishing. The crux of the problem is that vanity publishing is all about selling to the writer, not the readers.

  • Victoria Dahl

    I'd like to know how you define the difference between self publishing and vanity publishing. In concrete terms, what is the difference?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    Thanks for the comments. I think just about every possible opinion has been shared on this, so I am closing this comment thread.

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  • ronne patt johnson

    I have written a book (331 pages) of fiction. It is a story of a serial killer who starts out as a young boy beginning with his own sister. The crux of the book is how he cotinues to get away with it throughout the years and how those who do finally realize who the killer is, its too late. I would like to see it published because I believe it has a lot of potential not only for a book but for a series or movie. I DO NOT want to self publish because ill never know then if it has true merit. But I need a literary agent who would take it on consignment as I dont have the money to try it o my own. Can someone give me some guiance here?

    • ronne patt johnson

      I would really like to hear from a reputable literary service or agent that might direct me properly. I am not a young woman and would really like to see my book in print (and, of course hopefully sell) so I could leave my family some legacy. I would deeply appreciate a reply

  • ronnepatt johnson

    I would really like to have my book read and promoted by a reputable literary agent. I would have to know if there would be a fee involved upfront or, more hopefully it would be read on.consignment. Is this possible?
    I definitely do not want to self-publish.

  • Lianne Simon

    Self-publishing may also be an option for those of us who have written something outside the usual genre markers. For instance, the protagonist in my novel is a teenager who was born with a genetic condition resulting in short stature and a sexually ambiguous body. It is written from a Christian perspective, but I have no idea how to track down the right agent and I have my doubts about finding a Christian publisher who would handle such a sensitive topic.

  • Kkroessler52

    My 89 yo mother just over drew her checking account after her third check for $680 in three months.  She lives on $1900/mo and her rent is $650.  She thinks she’s going to make big money on the book she is publishing with you.  My mother is not technically incompetent and I don’t believe in patronizing her but I think she was scammed by you guys.  She is SO happy she’s going to be a published author but really, what is the likelihood that she will make any money on this book.  I’m not impressed you provide a legitimate service when an 89 yo gets scammed.