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The Death of Big Publishing

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

You’ve seen it in the news. Everyone’s talking about it. All the big publishing houses are dinosaurs about to be turned into fossil fuel. Does this mean you won’t be able to read great works? No. Does this mean the end of reading? Hardly. Will we miss the Big Guys? Hell no. And as far as I’m concerned, they deserve to die.

Big Publishing is scared these days, and it should be. Years of author abuse is finally coming back on the publishing houses. Years of exploitation, special “reserves” they withhold out of royalties that mysteriously vanish, taking finished works hostage, prohibiting authors from writing in their chosen genre — the list of abuses is endless. What’s happening now is karma. And it’s long overdue.

I read an article in the March 20 issue of Newsweek called “Please Stop Writing,” by Susan Cheever, theorizing about why popular authors’ later books aren’t good. Cheever supposed that the author ran out of ideas. That maybe authors only had one or two good books in them. That their imagination “… waxed and waned …” after the first two.

I used to wonder the same thing. I’ve had the same discussions with friends. We all liked a particular author’s first few books. Then the books got derivative and stale and we lost interest. Now that I’ve been exposed to the Dark Side of Publishing, I know the reason why. And it’s not the author’s fault.

Authors don’t choose what they write. They write what the publishers buy. And publishers want a product they can count on. If you write a blockbuster, they’ll want more just like that first one. And you’d better not deviate from your formula or they won’t print it. Publishing houses consider you a product brand. Your product must contain certain plot elements and certain types of characters. Period. If you’ve been writing thrillers, they won’t want your new mystery series. Only if you’re a proven best-selling author do you get the opportunity to write another series under a pen name.

But if your last book didn’t sell well, watch out. Even if you have a five-book contract, they may decide not to publish the rest of the series. And you may not be able to sell the books anywhere else. I have many friends who’ve written books they’re not allowed to sell. Ever. Anywhere. To anyone.

I have a friend who wrote a series of eight books about a vampire battling a werewolf. In the ninth book, she killed off the werewolf. Which at the time was exactly what the publisher wanted. She finished the book — which takes most of us upwards of eight months — and sent it to her editor. This was when she was informed that the publishing house had changed its mind about the series and decided it wanted to feature the werewolf in a new line of books. What about the book she’d just finished? It got shelved. When she wanted to publish it as an ebook to promote her series, her request was denied. No one may read that book. She has no rights to sell it anywhere else. It will forever remain in Story Limbo. Eight months of work flushed down the publishing toilet.

One friend sold her first book for cheap and signed such a terrible contract, she had to sell all future books for the same price to the publisher. And she was not allowed to write in that same genre unless it was for them. Screwed for life.

The latest rip-off by publishers? All new contracts have a standard clause that requires you to sign away the electronic rights to your work FOR LIFE. Since it’s pretty clear that most future book sales will be in electronic form, this means, in effect, the authors will lose the copyright to their work. Sounds illegal, doesn’t it? Not if the publishers have the right lawyers. Giant multinational corporations can do anything they want.

Frank and I personally lost $7,500 of royalties “held in reserve” from one of his For Dummies books. When the publishing house sold the line to another publisher, Frank’s money mysteriously vanished with no explanation. Hiring a lawyer would have cost more than we’d have recovered.

The good news in all this hell? Authors don’t need publishers any longer. A romance writer friend of mine who was rejected by all the big houses decided to publish her work in ebook form on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble. In six months, she sold 100,000 copies and made six figures. Granted, not everyone will have that kind of success, but still. Who needs the big guys? Not me.

My latest thriller, Caught, was recently rejected by all the large publishers. Not because the book wasn’t good. An editor at Penguin said, “This book is a real page-turner!” They all seemed to like it. But here’s the quote that summed it all up for me. St. Martin’s Press said: “I enjoyed the voice and Emma’s character, but the storyline just didn’t grab me in a big commercial way. Ultimately I just didn’t have a big vision for this one.” Because my book didn’t throttle her with multimillion dollar possibilities, she rejected me.

And thank God. My agent Laurie McLean said: “I think you’re lucky. I would have hated to see what they’d have done to your characters and voice. You need to get your work out there. Your readers are going to love it.” So, on the advice of my agent and fueled by a fear of being ripped off by a corporation, that’s exactly what I have done.

Caught is now available as an ebook on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble. Caught will also be available in print soon. In early 2012, the next two books in the series, Marked and Payback, will be released. My four-time award-winning fairy tale, Cinderolda, should be out next month. Check back here for updates!

Let the Time of the Author begin. Happy reading!

©2011 Janet Periat

Welcome To My Blog!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Hey there!

You have reached my blog. How exciting for you! Since this is my first post, I will make it short. You have arrived. And now, following this little bit of nonsense, I will post an actual humor column. Wow! Already? You bet! Since I have virtually no audience for this yet, I will certainly enjoy reading my own work…

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