Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Polarization of Authors?


Having fun with my new standing desk. I got so caught up in my work this morning, I realized I had been standing for 3 hours. Time to sit for a bit!

Listening To:


NINC is a terrific conference that caters to authors who are already multi-published. After attending last week, it’s clear to me that this conference is leaning more and more toward supporting authors who are exploring the indie-publishing route.

There was a decidedly anti-traditional-publisher sentiment in a lot of the panels that I both participated in and attended. This is not a commentary on the conference, by the way. It’s merely my observation. I think a lot of attendees would probably agree with my assessment.

But this is what worries me. I sense a widening division between authors who traditionally publish and authors who self-publish. And there’s no need for that. This is not an either/or question, nor is there only one right path to publication. (By the way, for what it’s worth, editors from “traditional” publishers much prefer the term “commercial” publisher.)

The conference vibe seemed to rest on a few assumptions:

1) That authors who stay with traditional publishers are stupid for doing so (not necessarily true) and that they can’t make a living/career by solely writing while partnering with a commercial publisher. (Also not necessarily true as plenty of traditionally published authors make high 6 or 7-figure incomes and enjoy the marketing campaigns their publishers invest in them.)

2) That indie publishing is the only route for an author who wants to be in control of his/her career (not necessarily true, as agents negotiate a lot of things in contracts).

3) That indie publishing is the only way to make good money or a living by writing (also not necessarily true, as some indies make really good money and others are not seeing as much financial reward).

It’s a disservice to the industry in general and to the conscious choices an individual author would like to make about his/her career by thinking in these kinds of divisive absolutes. Plenty of good reasons exist to choose one path or the other (or a combo of both).

Writers, in the end, there is only one right path–the path that is actually right for you and your career. And when you gather the data, weigh the pros and cons, and make a conscientious decision about what you’d like to explore, you are actually thinking like an agent. As that is what we do every day for each individual client at our agency.

11 Responses

  1. Kelly said:

    This polarized thinking can be found in many areas of our culture today: politics, education, health, environment.

    It’s reassuring to see an agent who promotes looking at the big picture and considering a “combo.”

  2. jeffo said:

    It’s unfortunate to see this sort of thing happening in the writing world, but it’s pretty symptomatic of the world at large, too. We humans seem to like to divide ourselves up into groups and draw boundaries.

    I am always leery of people who deal in absolutes like “the ONLY way to be successful is to…” There are plenty of things that self-published authors need to take on that, quite frankly, I don’t want to take on myself. And there are plenty of good reasons for taking control of your whole operation and doing it yourself. When it really gets down to it, we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing.

    1. Brenda Hiatt said:

      (Submit Comment button doesn’t appear to be working, so tacking this on as a reply to an existing one. Sorry about that!)

      Interesting. I didn’t pick up that vibe at this past year’s NINC conference at all. Nearly all of NINC’s members started out traditionally published and quite a lot of them now have a foot in both camps. If there was an emphasis on indie-publishing at the conference, it’s because there’s still so much to learn on that front, while traditional publishing hasn’t changed all that much (though many of us wish it would!) Certainly, within NINC itself, I don’t get any sense of polarization–and I’ve been moderating their email loop for over a dozen years now, reading every single post. I’ll be interested to see how other attendees respond here–whether they picked up that same vibe or not.

  3. Bob Mayer said:

    Good point. I was a bit dismayed at the last two conferences I was at to be talking to someone and find out that they had signed a traditional book deal– a cause for celebration in both their cases– but they were afraid to tell people because they would get attacked. Other writers treated them like they had done something wrong. For new writers, getting a good book deal for their first manuscript is great. A publisher can do so much more for that writer than they can do self-publishing and throwing it out there.

    I coined the term hybrid in 2011, which doesn’t believe it’s an either/or scenario. There are options. And everyone is in a different situation so each author must make their own choice. And they shouldn’t have to defend that choice. It’s their career.

    The other problem is that when one talks about realities of the publishing world, such as the content flood, some treat it as if it were a ‘position’. It’s just noting a reality and not passing judgement on it. Again, every author is in a unique position and must evaluate all the realities from their own position. Good for some, bad for others. But over a quarter century making my living as a writer, I’ve learned one thing: there is no such event that is all good or all bad. Everything is nuanced and has to be carefully evaluated.

    1. Patricia Rice said:

      I’ve been a member of Ninc since it’s inception and I’m one of those “hybrid” authors. I’m sorry you came away with a feeling of polarization, because in Ninc, of all places, we know the power of choice. Perhaps it was the outside speakers that produced this observation. In our newsletters and our private conversations, it’s all about sharing information–traditional or indie. We are, admittedly, one of the first writers groups to openly welcome indie authors years ago, but on the whole, Ninc has a huge base of experienced authors at all levels of publishing. You’re right in that polarization won’t work, and Ninc would be the last to encourage it.

    2. Meredith Efken said:

      Hi Kristin,

      It was terrific to have you at the NINC conference! It’s interesting to read your impressions of the conference.

      In NINC, most of us are either traditionally published or hybrid (waving at Bob Mayer and thanking him for such a great coinage). We’ve got a lot of newer members who are indie-only as well. So there’s always a very diverse range of opinions and experiences. Given that every single one of us in NINC has a lot of publishing experience, we’re definitely not shy about our opinions!

      One thing we as an organization are working on is exactly what you were talking about in your post–getting rid of that unnecessary division between indie and traditional authors. All of us might be very forthcoming with our opinions and sharing our experiences and concerns about the publishing industry, but I can tell you–at the end of the day, NINC members stick together because we are all novelists, no matter how we got there. Every single one of us is passionate about seeing authors treated fairly and having the chance to make a decent living creating their art.

      I think it can be hard for agents, editors, and other industry professionals to come into the middle of that. This conference isn’t open to non-NINC members. So what you’re hearing and seeing is the continuation of a lot of discussions and conversations that happen outside the conference. As a result, what may seem like division to you really isn’t, when taken in context.

      However, I do agree that there is a division in the broader writing community. It’s something I addressed in one of my president columns in the NINC newsletter last year. (September, I think…) I’m not sure if that issue of the newsletter has been made public yet, but it’s definitely a topic that we are addressing within our organization and beyond.

      In the end, what should matter to authors, and their agents, is making sure that authors are being treated fairly, compensated fairly, and that they’ve got every opportunity possible to get their work out to their readership.

      I would say NINC is definitely united on that. 🙂

      Meredith Efken
      (NINC past-president, 2014)

    3. Tracey Lyons said:

      I’ve been a member of NINC for a few years now and I have to say I’m sorry you feel this is what the tone of our 2014 conference was. I will admit that sometimes I think there is a bit of a tug of war going on, but that is everywhere with writing organizations and groups these days. I’m a hybrid author and I really think everyone’s career is different. I for one will continue to shout from the roof tops that I am actively pursuing a career in traditional publishing. And believe me I have no problem doing so within the NINC organization. This is a large and growing membership and the workshops and panels are but a microcosm of the authors who make up the organization. Yes, there are some authors who have turned there backs on NY houses, but there are many more of us who still have active professional relationships there. Maybe it’s time for the silent majority to speak up a bit louder so you can hear us. I for one am glad you took the time out of your busy schedule to attend and participate in the 2014 NINC conference and hope to see you at future ones.

    4. Laura Phillips said:

      I’m confused. The most recent NINC conference was in October ’14. What conference were you at last week?

  4. Alyx said:

    Gee, I attended that conference as a traditionally and independently published author, and I had a different experience. We shared information, we consulted about innovations, we traded marketing tips. Authors together.

    I came away from that conference feeling empowered and educated. Most of the authors I know felt similarly positive, just to present another perspective. And I loved having all the input from the technology companies that sent representatives. They were positive and innovative, and quite responsive. I was having a problem with an audiobook page, and boom! Right there, as I watched, the company rep fixed the page for me, and gave me her card in case I had any more trouble. I’m not used to that kind of service. 🙂

    It’s just so inspiring, dealing with so many innovative, generous, and thoughtful authors in an atmosphere of open exchange and common benefits. This is the best time ever for authors, and I’ve been in the industry 30 years. It will take time certainly to sort out, but I wouldn’t borrow trouble, Ms. N. The prospect for authors is so much better than it was 10 years ago– for ALL authors, because I’m sure you’ve been experiencing it too, that traditional publishers are having to up their game and do a better job because we have other options now.

  5. Heidi Kneale (Her Grace) said:

    That was you, Bob? I love the term “Hybrid Author”. Am considering that path and am researching options.

    I started writing before personal computers (boy, were they a boon!) and the Internet. I grew up expecting publication with traditi–er, commercial publishers.

    My career path is still pointed in that direction, but now I have a second path that doesn’t necessarily exclude the first. Not every good book can be commercially published, but with indie publishing as an option, that improves the odds for good books getting out there.

    I tell you, I do NOT miss the days of typewriters and snail mail.

  6. Carmen Webster Buxton said:

    Don’t you think there a huge element of sour grapes in a lot of these attacks? I say that as a self published author. I got an agent, but she was never able to sell my books, so when the Kindle came out, I started self publishing some of my novels. I think it’s wonderful there’s an alternative to commercial publishing, and I understand that that world favors the Stephen King level author, but still, I would rather have my books in stores and spend less time finding my own cover artists, editors, and proofers. The only bad thing I would say about commercial publishers if never sign a contract without an agent or an IP lawyer on your side, to be sure you’re not giving away the store. No one is in business for altruistic reasons.

    Something to remember if you’re thinking of self publishing as a way to avoid rejections… all you’re doing is increasing the pool of people who can say no to your book. Of course, they can also say yes, and buy the book, but every customer on Amazon or B&N or iBooks might well say no.

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