Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sinister Motives in Big Publishing?

Hello, writers, authors and fiends for punishment. I’m sorry I’ve been away for a long stint, but it was necessary to take immediate care of some major writing contracts and assignments. You know, really getting paid a lot of money to turn in work assignments for a change. I promise to finish and post a 2nd part to the previous post; The Hottest Promo/Marketing Tips I know (Part 1). So please forgive the slight derail and have mercy on me because I haven’t compiled my research notes yet on that topic. And it has to be accurate.

In one of our group writing discussions today, a poster offered some questions/theories about why Harper Collins and Random House seem to be driving deeper into the market share by producing new imprints that make submitting to the editors possible without agent rep. He wondered if there was any hidden or disguised motives for branching out like this. He proposed three basic questions:

1.      Is it possible these major houses are interested in re-branding their image, as well as marketing strategy, and that in doing so it allows them to open up more social media opportunities and gain a better footing with the reading public and writers alike.

2.      Could it be a response to the huge influx and success of self-publishing? And is it possible that they consider SP a serious threat and believe, like a wound, it must be staunched?

3.      Could it be an attempt to lessen the value and use of literary agents by offering all of these open call windows and direct submissions; hence opening up their doors for a more favorable and easier submission process?

I’ve included my answers to his questions in this blog post as well as responding on the writing site. Don’t hold back. I need your opinions about this subject and what’s on your mind about motivations and conspiracy theories.  

My response:

Well, dear writer, it isn't really ground breaking news that these imprints and open sub windows (calls) have suddenly sprang up out of nowhere. They began to show up in what, about the past three-four-five years or so? We've had a few threads on this very topic and we also have many of those imprints listed on watchdog and report status in our Bewares forum. I don't even remember which publisher started this new trend/paradigm, but it didn't take long for the other major houses to follow in lockstep with their own versions.

If a publishing juggernaut marketing manager told me that it wasn't a financial decision to start up these little sister imprints with lenient submission protocols (sans agents) I would have told them to slither back into their little offices (lairs) and practice lying better. But, hey, publishing is a business with precariously low profit margins and laborious spreadsheets that outline how they're going to keep the lights on, pay the rent, staff, writers and everybody else in sundry.

Since the ease and accessibility of self-publishing has come into play, the major houses, slowly at first, had to devise a way of capturing a piece of that market. I've heard via the Kindle Boards that self-publishing really started to get its wings around 2009, (the original indie crew call themselves the O-Niners) and that's when some major notoriety became evident with some of the breakout indie books and a new author cheering section reared its head (WatPad and Booksie, to name a few).


 Self-publishing through Amazon or any other similar platform = a substantial amount of sales that do not belong to any of the trade publishers. Not only that, the likes of Harper C. Penguin-Random, S & S, Little Brown and others could ill afford their cash cow celeb writers going off into independent land in search of better royalties and complete product control. The major publishers are not panicking or beset with fear--they're really in need of adapting to the changing publishing environment and they know this all too well.

So what had to be done? Make publishing with a large trade publisher more attractive, easy, safe, dignified and accessible. I also had a gut feeling that the so-called large, mean, greedy, imperialistic Big Five/Six wanted to change their image and soften their stance. Hey, we're for the little guy writer, dontcha know. Please don't call us Gatekeepers, we hate that. Sure, in the beginning these little sister imprints, most of them e-book platforms, had some predatory contracts--rights grabs, no advance, reduced royalties and other snafus. The writing community at large cried foul and many writer's orgs went on the defensive--The Bewares board of the SFWA right out in front. Things have nearly straightened out in that sense.

I don't think the major houses believe that agents are passe or a dying breed or they're trying to bury them. Agents are the BEST go-between sources for major editors and writers. An inconsiderate writer can really phuck up an editor's day with phone calls and non-stop emails. A writer couldn't negotiate his own contract if his/her life dependend on it, sans a little legal advice and help. Is it part of their strategy to cleave off a couple hundred or thousand agent subs to stick it to the writers for contract deals that MIGHT be nonnegotiable or certainly less beneficial to writers?--we're talking about business here again and it could be part of it, but I don't think it would make a major dent in profits.

I think the majors want to fish the ocean for some potential, already talented authors who might be thinking about self-publishing or have landed there due to frustration and staked out a nice claim for themselves. So if you think this might be a media ploy you could be right. Partially. I don't think chicanery is involved.

So truth be told, I think the majors had some legitimate reasons for offering these new, innovative (or nonstandard) imprints and opportunities. Just another form of branching out to deal with the competition; there is competition for readers and book dollars. Make no mistake about that.

But I must say, it's a little queer that these imprints starting really showing up when major self-publishing stars began popping out of the woodwork. And Gawd help me, I think I might have forgiven Twilight, but I'll never concede that 50 Shades deserved print in the first place. It makes me ill when publishers become ambulance chasers, picking up prepackaged stars and giving them new brand and legitimacy. I think I have an old post about ambulance chasing in a “Publishing Fraud” post.