May 27, 2012

Writers: Don't Let Yourselves be Exploited

by Marsha Ward

Many of my friends know I'm a fervently self-publishing author. This isn't, by the way, because my writing stinks. Even though I have days when I think I can't write my way out of a paper bag, my writing is not awful. I've been publishing for the last 25 or more years in a variety of publications, and I served as a newspaper editor for three different newspapers (one of them for two separate stints), as well as a publisher for two small-press publications back in the day. I have over 900 publishing credits besides my novels, so I don't think anyone can say I'm a crappy writer.

I went into self-publishing for a specific reason (a seemingly fatal medical prognosis that proved otherwise). I've achieved a welcome level of freedom in my endeavors, if not millions of books sold. My readers are avid, I get almost universal praise along with impatient pleas for the next book, and the criticisms are along the lines of "I won't read your book because the saddle on the cover isn't accurate to the period," or "nobody would get baptized that quickly" (except one of my forebears).

My sense of outrage and a sinking feeling sometimes come to the surface when I am approached by wanna-be writers who eagerly espouse the notion that publishing a book will fulfill their need for more income, or that getting an agent or a publisher will validate their almost crippling desire to be loved and appreciated for their writing skill.

Don't get me wrong. I was in that camp for a lot of years. I thought signing a publishing contract was the pinnacle of the publishing mountain, and much to be desired.

Well, I have learned many, many truths about the industry we love in the last several years, and I have had my eyes opened to the fact that WRITING ISN'T ABOUT GETTING AN AGENT OR A PUBLISHER. It's about getting a book into the hands of or the iPad (insert your favorite ebook-reading device here) of a Reader!

When some of my favorite eye-opening blog writers post about exploitation of writers or unfair contracts, my indignation can rise in my throat almost to the point of choking me, all on behalf of the writers who want to be published in the worst way--and sometimes get what they want.

I'm not saying traditional publishing is the devil. I'm saying it's exceeding difficult to get a fair shake from an industry that has had all the power on the publishing houses' side for too long. If I was offered fair terms in a contract with a huge advance on a book, and could afford to wait around for a publication date two or three years hence, I might take it, then turn my back, walk away, and forget it. Fair terms would have to lack a "non-compete" clause (because I'll for darn sure be writing other work), but must include a "period of licensing" clause, not to exceed ten years. Lacking such terms, I don't think I would accept a publishing contract because, hey! Right now I'm making money and reaching readers.

Isn't that the end-all and be-all of our writing endeavors, after all? Reaching and touching the lives of readers?


  1. I know I shouldn't be commenting on your post while fighting a migraine, but you shouldn't have words like, "stink" or "crappy," or "awful" even in the same paragraph when referring to your writing. My Kindle is graced with your writing!

    I've just started on my publishing journey. I know I have a lot to learn yet, but I prefer to be in the hands of trustworthy people who communicate freely with me. Good news, I had no "non-compete" clause. Everything I read made common sense to me--and my husband, too. Besides, prayer played a huge part in my decisions.

    1. Thank you for your purchases, Debra! Congratulations on a "common-sense" contract free of yucky clauses. I'm so glad you made your decision with prayer.

      What I meant to say is that the reason I self-publish my novels is not due to poor writing skills that would prohibit my books from having any chance at traditional publishers.


      In fact, two publishers requested out of the blue that I send them my last manuscript, which delayed its publication by nearly a year. The first one lost the file and I had to re-send it. The second one liked it, but discovered it wasn't exactly what they published (I already knew that, since they are a micro-publisher dealing in other types of books). The first one finally decided that although they had no quarrel with the quality of the writing and want me to submit anything I happen to write, the book wasn't really in their line, either.

      I guess I got caught up in the "honor" of the requests. I should have stuck to my original plan, because, like I say, it delayed the book's launch significantly.

      I made a conscious choice to self-publish when I began to do it, and now it simply works out better for me--and definitely for my readers--to continue in the same vein.

      I work hard at writing solidly crafted, satisfying novels. Indeed, on days when my ego is in good form (see the caution above), I think I'm the best writer that ever wrote. As with any other writer, I have dismal days when I think I should quit writing entirely because, yes, the writing stinks (in my opinion).

      Whether you think my books are darn good stories or unreadable purple dreck depends on your standards for fiction, of course. :-)

  2. As a former editor for a trade publication I echo passionately your words. Sometimes sadly the best writing doesn't get published for other reasons. My company had begun to consider online publishing of excellent articles as a way to get them out there.


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