Author Dumps Publisher At Book Launch Party

from the cold dept

We’ve discussed a lot lately how we’ve reached the point at which many authors have realized that self-publishing is a better deal than going with a big publisher. This is leading some to turn down huge advances from publishers to go it alone. And some are now asking if it makes any sense for authors to bother with publishing deals any more.

As with record labels, I’ve always thought that there are a variety of factors at play here, and for some authors, it can absolutely make sense to sign a publishing deal — though I would be very careful to understand what’s in the deal. For example, I’ve noted that for an author that isn’t that well known, it’s possible that doing a deal with a publisher can help with the marketing and getting the book in the right hands. Of course, some recent authors have pushed back on this, noting that publishers often expect authors to do much of their own marketing anyway… and that the marketing that they do contribute often is a total waste.

Indeed, it appears that some more authors are agreeing with that. Novelist Polly Courtney, who had successfully self-published a couple of books a few years back, leveraged that success into a three book contract with HarperCollins. However, now she’s made the news because at the launch party for the third book… she announced that she’s dropping HarperCollins and going back to self-publishing. Part of the problem? The “marketing” that HarperCollins provided. In her mind, they tried to pigeonhole her book in a category where it didn’t belong.

“My writing has been shoehorned into a place that’s not right for it,” she said this morning. “It is commercial fiction, it is not literary, but the real issue I have is that it has been completely defined as women’s fiction ? Yes it is page turning, no it’s not War and Peace. But it shouldn’t be portrayed as chick lit.”


“I’m not averse to the term chick lit,” said Courtney, “but I don’t think that’s what my book is. The implication with chick lit is that it’s about a girl wanting to meet the man of her dreams. [My books] are about social issues ? this time about a woman in a lads’ mag environment and the impact of media on society, and feminism.”

Apparently, the issue of the covers has been going on for all three books, so she’s dropping HarperCollins at the first opportunity — and doing so in quite a public manner. The final straw was apparently the positioning on this final book.

The jacket, which displays the chick-lit staple of a pair of slender legs, misrepresents the novel, Courtney believes. “The titles and covers have been a problem with all three of my HarperCollins books, right from the start,” she said. “If I had my time again I certainly wouldn’t have signed with them. There’s a feeling that any author should be grateful for any attention they can get from any publisher ? that they should take what they can get. But I don’t think they should have looked to sign me on the basis of what I’d written so far.”

Her decision to publicly ditch her publisher was the result of “three years of pent?up frustration”, she said. “People are looking at my books and saying ‘you’ve turned chick lit’,” she said. “The irony is that what’s inside the books hasn’t changed. To give Avon their due, in terms of the editorial process they didn’t try to change what’s inside into something different. It’s the packaging. From the reader’s perspective, they’ll see it on the shelf and think this is chick lit, and it’s not.”

What this highlights is that some of the benefit of a big publisher might also be its biggest weakness. And that’s scale. Book publishers can do scale well, but in order to handle scale, they try to run things through the same formula. You classify and then you follow the playbook. But that keeps you away from doing anything really creative, and creates problems when a book doesn’t necessarily fall into a pre-defined area. I think if publishers are really going to serve authors usefully going forward, they’re going to have to become a lot more flexible, and a lot less about marketing-by-the-numbers.

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Comments on “Author Dumps Publisher At Book Launch Party”

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Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

heh. i can see your point, Any Mouse, the joke is, none the less, there.

‘no, it’s not just a bucket of pain thrown at the canvas, it’s a deep meaningful expression of everything that is meaningful about all life!’ ‘come off it mate, i was standing right there. you took the lid off the can of pant and threw it at the canvas, then spent the rest of the day plotting how to market it!’ ‘either way, the gallery offered me several thousand for it.’

’tis amusing, however valid the points are or aren’t.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I haven’t read her stuff obviously, but it’s more like because the publisher feels they will make more money by grouping her with chicklit, the fans are saying she has gone chicklit, and she describes her books a “[non-literary, page turners]” (which I translate as easy-reading) targetted at women”.

Chicklit doesn’t have to be about sex or romance.
According to wikipedia:
“Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly”

Jack says:

Re: Re:

I think that she’s right to dump the publisher. Ok, think of this whole thing as, someone (the publisher) putting words in your mouth, when you’re trying to call the police(the public) about some crime you witnessed, but because this person (mouthpiece a.k.a. publisher) is acting as intermediary, the police end up thinking that instead of a crime being called in, that it’s just a kitten trapped in a tree after it climbed it. As a result, the police will not take anything you say afterwords seriously, so your credibility with the police (public and fan-base) is damaged, so that, anything you say (write) is tainted with the resulting statement from the police being; “Oh boy, it’s that person calling again, it’s probably another kitten in a tree, we’ll just ignore her!”. See, that doesn’t work at all, does it?

Jeff Rife says:

Re: Re:

You do know the meaning of that saying is pretty much opposite of the actual text?

The saying implies that the one accused of protesting isn’t actually unhappy with the situation at all, but merely wants to inform the listener about it. For example, a guy who complains that every other guy is hitting on his girlfriend because she is so good looking.

It has also come to mean nitpicking about things that don’t really matter, but that’s not the source meaning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Doesn't matter unless you're in it for the money

Doesn’t matter which way you go, if you’re a good writer and your story is popular you will always rise to the top. The only difference is in the net total of income you get to keep by self-publishing vs. giving up control to a publisher. Short-term you get a bit more money by giving your work over to a publisher, but long term you earn far more self-publishing since you get to keep ALL of your money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Doesn't matter unless you're in it for the money

“You may be an excellent writer, but that’s not going to make your story popular all by itself.”

actually it does, and has nothing to do with the quality of the writing. If something is popular to most, it will be regardless of marketing. It the definition of popular. In the rare cases when something does become popular, people always find out about it regardless of forced exposure. The best marketing is people who tell other people.
My point was, if you are in it for the money and expecting your work to magically become popular because you signed with a publisher or went to the self-publishing route, then you’re in the wrong line of work. Neither offer a guarantee of profitability, nor should they. Self-publishing just offers greater creative freedom and a bigger chance of greater profit share in the long run.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Doesn't matter unless you're in it for the money

The definition of popular is that something is popular? I think you have a circularity problem there.

A big dollar marketing campaign is not a guarantee of anything, but that does not mean that marketing is never important, or that popularity has nothing to do at all with marketing.

Lauriel (profile) says:

Re: Doesn't matter unless you're in it for the money

Doesn’t matter which way you go, if you’re a good writer and your story is popular you will always rise to the top.

I disagree. Even if you are a great writer, popularity doesn’t necessarily follow. Firstly, you need to get noticed, increase circulation, etc. For that, you need to attract those who will be interested in the product you are offering.

Those heading to the ‘chick lit’ area of the shelf are not necessarily going to like a book that deals with feminism and media – especially if this theme isn’t tackled through the lens of romance. If you aren’t interested in the subject matter, it doesn’t matter how well it is written.

Equally, those interested in fiction that examines and challenges a social status quo probably aren’t going to head to the romance section to look for it.

Even an excellent writer needs to reach the right market in order to gain recognition, word of mouth, and increased popularity.

Ridiculous analogy: How popular do you think Coca Cola would have become if it was marketed as fruit juice?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Doesn't matter unless you're in it for the money

Sorry, you misunderstood me (clearly I’m not a good writer). I was not saying that you shouldn’t use marketing, or that marketing is somehow not that effective. I was pointing out that it doesn’t matter how good or bad of a writer you are, popularity and becoming a millionaire of a work happens for different reasons, and few of those have anything to do with marketing. From two summer movies that get the same level of marketing, only one becomes a blockbuster. Clearly marketing isn’t that much of factor to rising to the top, nor is the quality of the works. Nobody really knows what will become popular or successful, and we never will. But in general you can notice that forced popularity never works, or only works for a very short time.

TechnoMage (profile) says:

I've always thought there needed to be Better Negotiating on the contract

As someone who has aspirations of being an author, both fiction and some textbooks(CS, programming, etc). I thought of what I’ll offer the book publishers. This might be a pie in the sky dream… but here it is:

1) no upfront payment (I will write the book in my own time)
2) I retain the copyright, They only publish is for a set amount of time. (say 5 years).
3) Future books would have the same deal. So, each would have a 5 year deal with them.
4) During that time I receive some percentage of the sales (NOT PROFIT{gotta avoid MPAA accounting})… lets say 10% (I really don’t know what % right now offhand. I’d have to look more into that before I went to a publisher

5) … not sure how to handle signing for multiple books right now.. but still just some thoughts I had on the issue. I’m sure I’d be able to find someone to publish for that… or I could use to allow people to buy my book in whatever (paper/hard)-back version they want… and just go from there….

Amy Alkon (user link) says:

"In it for the money"

Money buys food at the grocery store, which I eat so I’ll have the energy to keep words clacking across the keyboard.

It’s actually not true that good work always rises. There’s a great deal of writing out there, and a vast field of self-published writing, and much of it is by people who think they never had a chance before because publishers hate them for some mysterious reason. (It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that they think every word they put on the page is golden and not in need of such a thing as an editor.)

Publishing companies think they know what they’re doing, yet test nothing, as far as I can see (and have heard). It’s astonishing to talk to other author friends of mine and see how their covers have been ruined, and to hear pronouncements (by publishers) like “White covers do not sell!” (Hmm, Ann Coulter’s book did okay.)

The problem, for an author like me (a former TV producer who knows better than to cheap out on editing, layout, etc., and whose boyfriend shot her last book cover on her porch), is that PR is expensive, and that TV producers and book reviewers don’t want to deal with authors directly. Promotion, in other words, is the real problem for anyone who can hire great editors, take criticism, work their ass off, and who is willing to pay for professionally done layout, etc. If you can’t afford it and don’t have a substantial “platform,” even if you’re a wonderful writer, you probably shouldn’t expect to sell too many books.

cc (profile) says:

A quick search on Amazon gives this listing of her work. The top book is called “It’s A Man’s World” and the cover has the “slender legs” she talks about in the article.

The product description starts like this:

This is women?s fiction with bite! Join Alexa as she battles her way through the chauvinistic lads mag?s industry and makes real progress – it might be a man?s world, but it takes a woman to run it.

The marketing does totally make her book sound like chick lit, doesn’t it? But, let’s look at the reviews to get some perspective; the worst one (2 stars), while praising her writing, says:

It’s A Man’s World wasn’t the book I was expecting. Reading the synopsis, I expected a male vs female battle-of-the-sexes type novel where Alexa had to strive to make her mark in the male-dominated environment of Banter, a lads mag. And whilst Alexa does strive to make her mark, it was nowhere near how I expected it to be. Instead, It’s A Man’s World is one long, epic tale of how, frankly, lads mags are ruining the world. So where I was expecting a relatively lightish read, instead I get something more hard-hitting and something infinitely harder to take than I’d have liked.

She is completely in the right to be angry with her publisher because they totally failed to find her market — when she has readers complaining about the misleading advertising it means her publisher really screwed up the marketing!

cc (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I disagree with part of your comment. My definition of marketing involves both finding and keeping customers, and I believe that marketing done right doesn’t require any suckering.

In this particular case, however, I agree. Not only did the publisher fail to find the right customers, the ones they did get were left disappointed because they were essentially lied to.

Overall, this was just a terrible business decision that ignored the author’s wishes and tried to sell the wrong thing to the wrong people for quick and dirty profit.

If you look at the bigger picture, to the publisher an author is no different than a sack of potatoes. They sell hard to shift as much product as they can before it goes out of date, and whatever’s left is sent to the landfill of out-of-print books.

Lauriel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s a common misconception to confuse an editor with a proof reader, too. Proof readers check spelling and grammar.

Editors also check for consistency – are the characters consistent throughout the story? Is the timeline correct? Is the main plot plausible, at least enough to get the reader to suspend belief? Are there glaring holes in the main plot? Does the text read naturally, or is it halting and awkward in areas? And so on.

An editor is also most likely to be the one keeping you out of the copyright soup.

While I agree there are many benefits to self-publishing, I also think that an editor could only add value to your work. And hiring a freelance editor before publishing, while most likely an expensive undertaking, would be a serious consideration.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re:

No author is perfect. As someone working on a novel, I can tell you that a good editor and a good, harsh critique group are essential for any writer. The fact is, a writer is often too close to their own work to see the problems. The writer knows everything there is to know about the story and/or the world they have created. Therefore, it is easy to overlook holes, timeline mistakes, inconsistencies, etc. As the writer, you know what it is supposed to be, but you may not do a perfect job of making that clear to the reader. The editor has more distance and is able to identify those problems without bias or a defense mechanism in the way.

The other problem is that writers, especially amateur writers, have a tendency to believe that everything they write has value. They have a love of language and often tend to overwrite. They fall in love with their own words, and it is difficult for them to cut content that really needs to go. There are very few first drafts that would not be improved by cutting 20% of the words. There are almost no first drafts that would be improved by adding more words. Again, the editor is there to point out where the words are getting in the way of the story.

Snow says:

publisher got it right

The comment “instead I get something more hard-hitting and something infinitely harder to take than I’d have liked.” In other words, had Avon published the book the way she wanted, they wouldn’t have been able to market it. I don’t even think there is a market for such a book, which sounds like a lad mag version of “The Jungle.”

BTW, anyone else love how the author’s photo has in her pose and outfit very similar to thsoe of the woman on the cover the book?

Peter (user link) says:

Peter is an author.

Peter is an author, psychology professor and former private practitioner. But Peter himself didn’t put pen to paper at all, and he once even stated he’d never read them coz he “Knew what was in them anyway”. Peter may have 500 articles in Canadian and USA media /magazines written and also many more books so you could try looking up?

I read books written HAUNTED NIAGARA: LEGENDS, MYTHS AND HOAXES .Peter who can write their own work. Thanks

Jon (profile) says:

Self Publishing > Self Employed

Maybe in some ways using a publisher is almost like being employed by them. They lay down the rules, make editing suggestions, control the marketing, seemingly do everything for you but are really doing it for themselves. You, the writer, are left hoping that they do a good job promoting your book and that a competitor does not come along that the publisher likes better.

Self publish, and you are in control. The book becomes a part of your own company, you write it, build it, market it and can potentially make a lot more money from it.

If you can sell it direct yourself even better (Amazon take a massive commission from sales). Hard work, but maybe more rewarding in the long run.

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