Free agency

Mormon publishing is a small world, but since I only hover on the outskirts of the community as a fiction writer who is Mormon and not as a writer of Mormon fiction (albeit I have Mormon characters), I don’t have much invested in the state of the Mormon art.

Currently I’m involved in a discussion on the Association for Mormon Letters blog that led to these comments:

Author Annette Lyon said:

Angela also hit it right on the head when she said that it’s a bit tricky naming names and titles when you’re one of the LDS writers yourself. It was a different story before I was part of that group. It’s easy to praise, but this is a tiny sandbox. An offhanded remark can make an enemy, so imagine if I were to give an honest review of that other book. Yeah. Let’s just say I don’t dare.

Author Lisa Torcasso Downing said:

Like Angela, I’m hesitant to criticize other writers–and their publishers–because a) who am I to talk? and b) I need those publishers.

There was a level of pathos there that I don’t feel that deeply with unpublished writers of work aimed for the national market, and not a niche one, and such a niche one. Actually, it was the “I need those publishers” that made me hurt.

I can understand Annette’s position, as she’s established and seems to do very well within the niche. But this is what I want to say to Lisa et al: You do not need those publishers.

Look around. eBooks, podcasts, print-on-demand, serial fiction blogs. The landscape is changing drastically and at breathtaking speed.

My question is: Could you do worse on your own? Really?

Just think about it. Please.

10 thoughts on “Free agency

  • January 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I really don’t know. I have to find where I fit. I’d love to do this on my own. But I am not sure I have the knowledge, resources or ability. Going on your own and finding that perfect niche is daunting. It seems ‘safer’ maybe, to go where success, albeit harder to obtain in the bigger sandboxes, would be certain.

  • January 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    It is daunting, I’ll admit it. Occasionally I have twinges of regret, but they don’t last long (usually until the next time I see a published author bitching).

    In this case, though, I’m talking about an already-established publishing niche that is microscopic to begin with. *I* play in the national sandbox. The authors I’m referring to play in a sandbox the size of a banker’s box. Why not bail?

  • January 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Dear Authors:

    Learn from the agony of musicians and labels. When labels get desperate they get nasty.

    Some background here:

    Make sure you click on the links to the rants by Albini and by Too Much Joy linked to in the comments. Take a close look at those financial statements. Now it’s not quite so extreme for authors, but can you really afford to be paying for expense accounts? For executive salaries? How much marketing and repping are you *really* going to get?

  • January 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    The first time I heard of anything like this was in 1997, I believe. One of the girls from TLC was on VH1 Behind the Music, and she was explaining how they could sell scads of records and make millions of dollars and still be broke and have to declare bankruptcy. She broke down the retail price of a CD to the PENNY and where every cent went. I was APPALLED, I tell you!

    I have been trying to find that interview ever since and haven’t, but I did run across Courtney Love’s screed.

    It was indentured servitude bordering on slavery.

  • January 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    “An offhanded remark can make an enemy” is a deeply pathetic thing to say about a bunch of religious publishing houses.

  • January 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    The Too Much Joy financial statement is hilarious. I remember that band. They had some decent hits, got great radioplay (on alternative stations, but still) and had some periods of buzz. Granted, they were alternative, but the fact that they ended up 400,000 in debt to their recording company is insane, especially, since, as the dude notes, they didn’t actually pay themselves much out of the advance.

    And Albini’s list is priceless. “The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month.”

  • January 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Very thought-provoking, MoJo. I am with you though, while the process of venturing forth independently seems daunting at times, you hear so may things from published authors that really make you sit up and pay attention…and look for a better way. In this case, since the niche is so small, they see it as ‘status quo or nothing’, especially given the genre/subject matter. How would the LDS organization view LDS materials published independently?

  • January 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    The LDS church or the LDS publishing almost-monopoly? The church doesn’t care one way or another.

    The LDS publishing community, I don’t think does, either. It’s just so small and so few ways to compete, AND from what I’m reading lately, LDS publishers can be worse about their contracts than national publishers.

  • January 29, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Oh, the music business is nasty! My daughter was tapped for one of those manufactured groups that were so popular back in the early 90s and after spending some time talking with the managers and the producers and the lawyers and ad nauseum – I thought to myself “where in all this does SHE make any money?”

    The producer wanted 50% of everything. The manager wanted 15%. The lawyer would get 5%. Every advance the label “gives” you has to be earned – and paid back. If you go on tour, the producer, the manager, the lawyer and the label all still have their hand in your pocket – but on top of that you’re paying 10% to the booking agent, a certain amount to managers at each venue, and God knows who else I never heard about AND you pay all the expenses of your tour.

    How to make money in music? Write it. A #1 hit recorded by ANYBODY will pay the songwriter/lyricist probably more than the recording artist will get for it. Paul McCartney got rich as a Beatle – but his real wealth came from his songwriting.

    Digitization is most certainly going to change publishing like it’s changed music – hopefully for the better, for both authors and readers.


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