Somebody Put Me in Charge

Via the amazing iOS app Zite, I caught this post from Hugh Howey yesterday, about what Howey would do if he took over a publishing company (in this case, Harper Collins).

I love that authors are thinking this way now. Just a few short years ago, the prevailing wisdom was for authors to sit quietly in the corner while the grown-ups did the grown-up work of publishing. Marketing campaigns and career strategies and pricing and . . .

Hush now, they told us. We’ll worry about those things. You worry about your art.

This has never been less possible than it is now, and more authors know that, and that’s a great thing.

The tone of Hugh’s post is tongue in cheek even as he makes some insightful points about what a publishing company needs to do nowadays.

The main thing I liked about the post? Many of them are things I’m doing via Exciting Press, so it’s nice to think that I’m on the right track here, and that this model I’m using and building seems to make sense. This strategy I’ve carefully planned in my head over the past couple of years? Seems like some really smart authors who are very aware of what they’re doing and very knowledgeable about their business agree that this is the sort of strategy that could work.

Hugh’s first two points regard building a community and spending time in “self-publishing” forums, particularly KBoards are ones I haven’t dedicated much time to yet, though Hugh seems to think they’re most important, but there are two reasons I haven’t done so, and they’re both related:

1) One can’t simply “build a community”–a community forms around something, and that something must be present, first. Hugh built a community of readers around the first installments of Wool; that’s a powerful thing.

2) Marketing to other authors is only so effective. This is something I’ve noticed a lot about the indie community; there are a lot of authors talking to each other, which is amazing, but there are also a lot of authors who, amid talking to each other, are also talking at potential readers and pitching to the internet in general. Yes, authors are often among the most voracious of readers, and yes, it’s great to support each other, but I think it can become a bit of a feedback chamber at times.

I’m not going to address Hugh’s points regarding print books and formats, as I’ve focused Exciting Press elsewhere. I don’t read print anymore. I’m not interested in the print versus digital debate anymore because for me, it’s moot; when I buy physical books to purchase anymore, it’s to get them signed and put them on my bookcase. When I want to read, I break out my iPad. When someone asks me about reading something, I go out of my way to ensure I can read it digitally.

I was thrilled to see Hugh mention finite licenses, which is basically the foundation of Exciting Press. I built a publishing company as an author, so I wanted to make it the best I could for authors. A couple of my own books are on our list, and so, when I was deciding how our business model worked and what our agreements should look like, I wondered what sort of agreement I’d want to see as an author, and I built it from there. Limited licenses, higher royalties for authors–that’s what it comes down to. No advances against royalties–if Exciting Press had the capital to do so, we’d offer signing bonuses instead. No more of this “Here’s $5000 payable in 11 installments which we’ll invoice your royalties against.” Makes no sense. I’d like to eventually offer modest signing bonuses, but what I’m most concerned about is that authors start making money from the first sale, which comes as soon as it can (as Hugh notes, no staggered releases. Exciting Press is putting out titles as fast as I can prepare them).

The funny thing is that Hugh titled his post “Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge,” but the great thing is nobody needs to anymore. We are in charge. Just a little while before the post in question, Hugh predicted that big corporate houses would start trying to make their books look independent, but I think this one hits at a more powerful truth; the big corporate houses are going to have to start operating more independently and using more author-friendly models.