QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, February 3, 2014

Indie vs. Legacy: What Does The War Mean For You?

The war of indie vs. legacy rages on with its biggest battle to date. Recently, it’s been very difficult to navigate the social media without coming across mention of Kensington or JA Konrath or the multitudes of responses.

It began when an article detailing one legacy-published author’s experiences with her publisher went viral. The article described her advance, her royalties, and the complete lack of perks that many emerging writers assumed were all part of the package. Although she explicitly stated that she was not complaining and was very grateful for her opportunity, her revelations were no less shocking to many readers. The post was taken down within hours, but it was too late. The truth was already out.

The debate really heated up when the story appeared on the Passive Voice blog. The post itself was minimal, and all the front-line action happened in the comment section.

Then JA Konrath wrote his article, in order to discuss certain questions with Steven Zacharius of Kensington. That article is still evolving, as Joe has frequently updated it with additional dialog between Steven and himself.

Juli Monroe wrote about the uproar and provided her own responses.  I suspect many more people will be discussing this for a long, long time.

And today, I am going to be one of them.

First of all, if you haven’t read any of the above articles, you need to do it. Right now. Because if you are serious about being an author—if you are serious about getting into this business and surviving within it—you need to be a professional. I’m talking about being professional in all aspects, and not just on paper. Being a professional means you have a deep and extensive knowledge about the business into which you are entering.

These articles provide a look at traditional publishing that has never been privy to emerging writers before. I myself walked into this business having next to no idea what to expect past the query letter. In 2006, I started work on my first novel. Like many others, I sought a relationship with an agent and a publishing contract with a legacy publisher.

Why? A couple of reasons. I wanted a big house contract because I wanted to see my books on shelves. It wasn’t money I wanted, it was opportunity. Likewise, I wanted an agent because that was the only way to get into the big houses.

But that wasn’t all. I wanted a partner, an advocate for myself and my work. I wanted a business partner who had the knowledge, the experience, and the connections I lacked. I wanted to write, and I wanted an agent who could help me get to the next levels.

That was 2006. Almost eight years ago. My, how the world has changed.

First of all, there are no brick-and-mortar book stores in my county anymore. Not one. We had two Waldenbooks in the local shopping malls but each of them closed. Now, I have to drive nearly an hour to get to a Barnes and Noble. Thank goodness for Amazon, because shipping is cheaper than gas. The whole seeing-my-book-on-the-shelf thing doesn’t really exist for me these days, partly because I don’t even see shelves anymore.

I was represented by an agent for a brief time, but we dissolved our contract after he failed to sell the book--in the less than nine months I’d been signed with him. He was not a partner; he seemed to be a one-trick pony who’d hoped to capitalize on a surge in popularity of a certain genre. I later signed with a small press who brought out my three-book series with great success. It went a long way to validate my work and to emphasize the notion that the problem didn’t lie in the quality of my product.

I am a different author after these past eight years. More importantly, I am a different author after these past few weeks, just after having read these various articles.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about them. What does all this mean to me, as a writer?

More specifically, what does it mean to me as a representative of Query Tracker?

I’ve always been an advocate for author-agent relationships. Although I often seek to publish outside the realms of the legacy publishers, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking for an agent partnership. I will continue to look for a strong partnership with an agent because I am an author who is in this business for the long run. I know that an agent's work isn't limited to making a sale to a Big 5 publisher.

Konrath had (once again) provided an invaluable education regarding the many benefits of self-publishing ebooks. I’m also fortunate to have joined an indie author cooperative, a group of talented and resourceful YA/NA writers who have blown my mind pretty consistently since I met them. I intend to learn and absorb and keep up-to-date with this quicksand business we call publishing—but I will never stop seeking an agent.

And I am still writing. There are books to come. Maybe I will continue to work with small presses, because as purveyors of artisanal books, their philosophy resonates with the artist within me. Maybe I will indie publish, because my eyes have been opened to the advantages of going that route. But no matter what, I will always be open to working with an agent. A literary agent is too useful a tool to dismiss just because traditional publishing may not turn out to be the dream I’d dreamed it to be.

My opinion is that these debates—these revelations and discussions—can only improve the overall business.

Many writers send out their queries and pursue legacy publishing contracts, never fully understanding the true nature of the publishing beast. The greatest source of disappointment lies in unrealistic expectations. And, even though I’ve been indie-sympathetic for many years, I’m still disappointed that being a traditional-house author isn’t the golden ticket I’d assumed it was back in 2006.

My faith and my opinion of good literary agents remains unshaken.

Just as the publishing landscape has been forever altered by ebooks, the roles of literary agents will evolve, as well. One thing of which I am truly confident is that agents will continue to be the industry experts they are today, and will continue to be the business partners that writers need them to be.

The recent scrimmages with Kensington and other legacy publishers does absolutely nothing to diminish my feelings regarding agent representation. If anything, those revelations thinned the mist and smoke that kept me from truly understanding certain aspects of publishing, leaving me with a clearer view of this business.

After all, Steven Zacarius himself said "Aspiring authors just need a dose of reality" and all these articles, no matter what side they support, do exactly that—provide a good, if somewhat harsh, look at the real picture.

I’m indie published. I’d indie publish again, too. But later on tonight, I’ll check in on my account at QueryTracker.net because somewhere in those lists is the agent who will get my work, get what I’m trying to accomplish, and be the partner I need so that I can become a greater success.

And the funny thing is that, even if I had read all these articles back in 2006, I still would have opened my Query Tracker account and sent out every single query letter. An agent partnership is still part of my future business plans.

What about you? Have these recent debates changed your mind about your publishing goals? Or have they only reinforced your beliefs?

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at www.ashkrafton.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) or stop by the Demimonde Blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com .


R.E. McDermott said...

Dear Ash,

Thanks for a very thoughtful post. In regard to your final question, the recent debates haven't really changed my mind, because it was made up long ago. I've been happily self-published since 2011 and I'm very glad I made that decision.

That said, I've no problem with folks going the legacy route. Though I think from a financial standpoint, it's ill advised, it's not up to me to second guess anyone else's decision (I have trouble enough managing my own).

The pros and cons have been debated ad nauseum, so I won't get into that, but as far as finding an agent goes, I'm not really looking and haven't been for some time. To be honest, I found the query-go-round to be the most soul destroying time suck I've ever experienced, and I wouldn't participate again if you beat me.

That said, I don't doubt there are good, honest, agents around, just as there are some very bad actors. If an agent offered me representation and I felt he/she was a good partner (and the deal made financial sense), I would certainly consider it. However, I very much enjoy the fact that decision is now mine to make as an equal partner and not a supplicant.

To me, that is the greatest blessing of the entire indie movement. If you write a good story, you can take it directly to the readers. They are (in my opinion anyway) the only gatekeepers who count.

docstar said...

I don't pay much attention to anything Konrath has to say - he's done more to create the gap/animosity between self-publishers and trade publishers (what's with the "indie" and "legacy" bit anyway?) than any single person around, not to mention creating false hopes of fame and fortune. People should choose the publishing route that best fits their interests and talents, as well as what's best for their book. Hopefully, they will do that by looking at all the facts and not a bunch of self-serving rhetoric. There's no reason to diss either route in favor of the other, and people who do that really need to examine why they feel the need to do so.

Christina G. said...

The recent debates have done nothing more than confuse me. The way I take it is everyone is entitled to their own opinion as to what they believe the best route to follow is. But I intend to do like docstar said, choose what is best for me. Luckily I have a while before I need to make that decision.

One thing I have taken from a lot of these rants is the argumentative nature of the positions. Both sides make it appear very black and white - as if their way is best and only way to go and this is just not true. It reminds me a little of playground politics: whoever shouts the loudest wins.

For now I will continue to write and perfect my craft and when the time comes to publish, I will look at all options available at t
hat time. With the way things are going right now, who knows what it will be like when I'm ready to publish.