I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about the profession of writing. Self publishing, makes writing very appealing to amateurs. There are some cautions that every aspiring writer should consider.
While the tools exist today online for self marketing, and for self-publishing, there are some distinctions that need to made between “do-it-yourself” hobby writing and writing as a professional who has been trained in exclusive art schools at the university level in the top 10% of schools.
Before my shared analysis, however, I’d like to present a historical context for discussion and first discuss books. Not everyone enjoys reading from an e-reader, or reading from a computer terminal. Many people enjoy being able to sit on the sofa, in the hammock or recliner, or in bed, and to flip through pages of a book. For this reason, traditional printing presses (even very high tech computerized ones) are still a valuable and essential component of mass printing and distributions.
In recent decades in the USA, print-on-demand and e-books have carved out a large market share from traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is not “dead” however. And, whether or
not publishing method destines to digital or paper presentation, “vanity” press or more reputable publisher,… one has to always be careful not to get suckered by dishonest business practices if one is an author.
Where does this put writers? Well, in a similar pool of persons such as singers, songwriters, authors, publishers, musicians, fine artists, band-members, sculptors, film-makers, and screenwriters. The common thread, is that all of these professionals need laws to copyright and for material protection. This is known as intellectual property. And, licensing law is part of preventing infringement.
Public libraries are fortunately still in existence. And, so, for those who cannot afford to buy our products – we may choose to lend our product free of charge, to those who cannot buy. And, because of the library, centuries of knowledge are preserved, giving due respect to the original creator of that work as well, in memory.
I recently read an article from a local contributing article writer of a city-wide magazine. The article writer was boasting about how simple it is to publish via print-on-demand, through Amazon corporation. His enthusiasm is mildly appreciated; but some things need to be said about his assertions that “anyone can do it.” He writes in the article that, “he had an agent or two in the past but they did little except charge me [him] for contacting publishers and postage expenditures.” Now folks, it must be understood that agents are a necessary and helpful partner for serious artists. If you are an actor, you need a talent agent. If you are a musician, you most likely need a promoter/manager of some kind. If you are a sculptor, you should get to know a museum curator. Same, if you are a painter or fine arts artist. If you are a screenwriter, you should get yourself an agent. This makes studios more familiar with you. And, if you are a writer, you also need some sort of agent. Why else? For several reasons. First, they protect you from unscrupulous predators. Second, they allow you the time and focus to work on your product, as they simultaneously handle the business side of things. Third, they have connections and clout in their “Rolodex” that you should not have.
Ideally, they know the law regarding your business… they know the people who can make things happen for you. And they do not work for free. If you have found the agent, the stature of having representation translates to a studio or a publisher wishing to do business with you; and it weeds out the amateur, who is over-promoting himself and perhaps coming across as both desperate and unprofessional. Having an agent suggests to a studio and a publisher, that you are credible to do business with. The difficulty for many creative persons, is that they have the drive and the passion, but there are only so many good agents to go around. That is with good reason, so that quality material passes all the legitimate screenings.
In the case of writing a comic, short book, children’s book, novel, screenplay, radio spot, teleplay, play, opera, script… you will be responsible for paying an agent a fee to do, what seems like a nominal or insignificant easy action – “contacting publishers”. But, the truth is, that those publishers would not likely have responded well to your “cold” call or “cold” letter. Instead, they are more likely to give proper attention to an agent, who is working for you and representing you.
If you are only interested in not making any money for your writing, and you simply want to have a book printed and bound so that you can show it off to your friends… then simply have it printed by a company that does not promise you any production, marketing, and distribution from a budget. You could even have your local Costco print and bind something for you probably.
I have had a $27,000.00 marketing budget promised to me by a publishing company that sought me out. With the contract, came the promise of the widest US distribution channels that there are in traditional publishing, within the whole of the USA. That is what an agent can help you to secure. This does not translate to everyone acting ethically. Of course, there are jerks who will breach contract or even run away with your money. But, it’s better not to go-it alone in the first place, if you are a serious professional. Quality work takes time to produce, and requires its price.
Many authors today who are hobbyists, are very enthused by the low cost of self publishing through Amazon. First, Amazon’s “Create Space” is a division of Amazon. It is distinct, because rather than its retail powerhouse capacity (which is marketing, sales, and distribution of epic proportion), it is also a studio. The “Create Space” division of the company, is a studio that helps you to produce product. Many do-it-yourself advocates are keen on the functionality of uploading their material. It’s true, that for this in particular, an agent is not needed. However, if you wish to promote your work to Warner Bros. Studio, or one of those movie heavyweights on screenplay or novel, an agent is still someone who can work out all business know-how for you, if that book is going to be met by the serious eyes of a development.
Self publishing does not require sense of what sells. One can post something that meets the rules of Amazon, but not sell a single copy. Publishers however (who are legitimate ones and who are interested in developing and retaining you), invest in making sure that your book sells. They’ve already screened the quality of your work, and they’ve already determined it’s sell-able. They have made a risk assessment, whereas Amazon will more likely post much more content that would otherwise be risky, without any risk to their financial bottom line. Amazon is a pseudo-book publisher… meaning that while it is one of the largest, it is more a marketer, retailer, and producer of articles (things to be sold). In terms of e-books, it is a print-on-demand retailer (to be specific). It operates similarly (though unlike) a publishing exclusive company does (with a marketing budget dedicated to certain projects per individual contract). In that way, it differs from most publishers. For a writer, it is not a boutique publishing firm. It is rather a studio, which also expanded into production and retail.
I also caution writers to curb their enthusiasm. With film production, I see a trend of people calling themselves “Producers”-who upon closer examination and discussion, have very limited knowledge or education on how to draft, let alone enforce a production contract. Many of them, I doubt even have any education in the niche market for which business management, film-studies at NYU or UCLA, and entertainment law studies with a film school and Anderson School of Management (for instance) might best prepare them for.
“Do-it-yourself” advocates are attracted to the wish to breach gender, racial, and educational disparity with ease… but, they are also suggesting and believing that they and others can disregard the necessary qualification and experience.
If an “agent” truly were “worthless”, he or she is a fraud and is not a professional advocate for you. Similarly, anyone really can call him or herself an author, publisher, agent, movie producer – but are they amateur or pro? One thing that distinguishes a pro from an amateur, is that the pro is often less inclined to give details about their existing contracts to other people. For example, if Amazon allows you as a writer to select variables with regard to royalty, that information is usually not shared with outside persons. You might tell them that you receive a flat rate percentage. But, you should not reveal such details. Amateurs are too willing to share all details about their contracts, which ideally should be kept confidential. This goes for all trade secrets in all of the most successful business endeavors. Disclosure is often only a good idea when you are a whistle blower, you are in court, or when it makes no difference to state. Being taciturn about detail disclosure is wise; and it protects market share and your business.
So, when someone tells you to “publish your book for pennies”- be sure that you consider the investment of time, the loss of time you could be spending doing something else, and the fact that do-it-yourself usually means that you have no advocate to assist you with your endeavor.
A proliferation of junk sold via Amazon, is akin to a “flea market”. Real art on it, is created by trained talent. Did you study any of those paths? Writing for screen, should demand extensive history, government, theory of writing, political activism, editorial and critical thinking studies, English literature, directing actor for stage and/or screen, production methods based on ancient theories and principles…such as those from ancient Greece and Russia, the humanities, sociology, musicology, philosophy, and religion. These are merely some of the requirements that separate you from a “hack”. The more you know, the better. And, agents need to study management, contracts, law, entertainment law, etc. Don’t let others diminish the labor – or make it sound as if anyone can turn a profit in this business. Our clout is hard earned, and amateurs try to chip away at our credibility for their amusement & mischief. Remember that top tier art does not come cheap. And neither does top-tier education.